Military wary of offshore wind energy development
Turbines could disrupt training, testing, officials say
The O'Malley administration's desire to build offshore wind turbines as part of its renewable energy program is running into an unlikely source of resistance: the military.
The fear is that turbines placed in the Atlantic Ocean could disrupt flight and weapon test ranges, as well as erroneously appear on radar as unidentifiable aircraft, which could trigger false alarms in an era of high terrorism alerts, military officials said.
"When you start to place turbines out in the Atlantic Ocean, they will create an artificial image on the radar, and we might not be able to see aircraft because we think the aircraft is really the turbine spinning around out there," said Todd Morgan, president of the Southern Maryland Navy Alliance.
Representatives of the U.S. Navy command and the state's naval community shared their concerns Wednesday in Baltimore with officials of the Maryland Energy Administration, the Department of Business and Economic Development and other entities.
Attendees said there was a good discussion and exchange of information and that they hoped a middle ground could be reached.
"I think there's plenty of room and opportunity to have shared usage," said Ross J. Tyler, the MEA's director of clean energy. Other states are facing the same challenges on how to balance such interests, he said.
Last week, Gov. Martin O'Malley (D) joined with the Democratic governors of Virginia and Delaware to launch a collaborative effort in harnessing vast offshore wind resources in the Mid-Atlantic region. Officials also have touted the potential to create thousands of jobs.
The development of offshore wind farms is critical to meeting O'Malley's ambitious renewable portfolio standard of producing 20 percent of the state's energy through alternative sources by 2022.
Three major military installations Patuxent River Naval Air Station in St. Mary's County, Wallops Island on Virginia's Eastern Shore and Oceana Naval Air Station in the Hampton Roads region regularly use the airspace off the Atlantic coast for training missions and flight testing, Morgan said.
At the meeting, both parties indicated a desire to not sacrifice one side's interests for the other.
"Our first and foremost mission is to keep the base going and keep it vibrant," Morgan said. "Anything that gets in the way, we're going to be there and not jump on something just because it's a green initiative."
Renewable energy is a worthwhile initiative that could save money in the long term, but it is not worth risking billions of dollars in economic investment that the Navy spends in Maryland each year at Patuxent and elsewhere, Morgan said.
"I'm optimistic that all this can be accomplished and think the Navy left more sanguine about finding a solution," said Brig. Gen. J. Michael Hayes, managing director of DBED's Office of Military & Federal Affairs.
St. Mary's County drafted a zoning amendment last year that permits small, home-based wind turbines that do not interfere with any Patuxent River operations.
Navy officials "don't say yes or no, but they provide feedback," said Robert R. Schaller, the county's economic and community development chief. Protecting the interests of Patuxent River, by far its largest employer, is the county's foremost concern, he said.
Although it is unclear where wind turbines off Maryland's coast would be built or whether the location would interfere with naval operations, Tyler said Virginia has identified a site near Oceana.
To date, only one offshore wind energy project has received approval in Delaware. None has been approved in Maryland or Virginia. It could take anywhere between two and six years for such a project to become operational, depending on how quickly federal regulatory hurdles can be cleared and how fast a developer is procured.
The region has some of the strongest winds on the East Coast, and the development of offshore turbines would go a long way toward meeting the governor's renewable energy goal, Tyler said.
Currently, no offshore wind turbines operate in the United States.
The military is not the only group that has aired concerns about the turbines.
Environmental advocates and people who live near where turbines have been proposed along the water and in the mountains of Western Maryland have protested they pose a threat to wildlife and sea creatures and disrupt pristine views.
Some turbines in Europe are as far as 30 miles from the shoreline and can barely be seen, if at all, Tyler said.
Although offshore wind farms hold much promise for renewable generation and a wave of clean-energy jobs another one of O'Malley's initiatives is to create 100,000 such jobs by 2015 some supporters are holding back their enthusiasm.
"When I actually see a wind farm operating, that's when I'll be celebrating," said Gary Skulnik, co-founder and CEO of Clean Currents LLC of Rockville, which sells wind power to more than 4,000 residential customers and more than 400 commercial users in the Pepco and BGE service territories.
Clean Currents customers do not actually have wind energy delivered to them on the grid, but purchase credits that offset the generation of wind energy in the places like Texas and Iowa.
Staff Writer Sean R. Sedam
contributed to this report.