O'Malley vetoes wind moratorium bill

Governor Martin O’Malley has vetoed a bill that would have halted a 25-turbine wind project that powerful members of Maryland’s congressional delegation warned may interfere with high-technology radar tests at a nearby military base.

O’Malley says the proposed 13-month moratorium on constructing wind turbines within 56 miles (90.1km) of the US Naval Air Station Patuxent River (Pax River) was unneeded and would chill renewable energy investment in the state.

Developer Pioneer Green Energy’s Great Bay Wind Energy Center would be located in economically depressed Somerset County on Maryland’s eastern shore across the Chesapeake Bay from the base, located outside of Washington, DC.

O’Malley has rarely used his veto power during seven years in office given the General Assembly is firmly under control of his own party. Both chambers would need a three-fifths vote to override the veto.

Representative Steny Hoyer of Maryland, the number two ranking Democrat in the US House, had urged state lawmakers to pass the moratorium, expressing concern that if the military were unable to conduct the stealth aircraft tests it might move some operations at the base away from southern Maryland.

The developer has reportedly reached a tentative deal with the military to turn off the turbines during the tests, but Hoyer contends such a move would be inadequate to protect the base, a major economic driver in the region. It supports about 20,000 jobs.

Maryland’s US senators Barbara Mikulski and Ben Cardin, both Democrats as is O’Malley, also backed the moratorium.

“There are already safeguards in place to ensure that no renewable energy projects conflict with military facilities – those safeguards render this bill unnecessary,” O’Malley says in a statement.

O’Malley, who has championed renewable energy in office and has presidential ambitions in 2016, notes that the bill “would effectively kill a $200m investment” along with much-needed jobs and local tax revenue.

He adds that Pioneer Green Energy has played by the rules, invested millions of dollars in the project and spent years of painstaking negotiations with authorities and other stakeholders.

“If this moratorium were to take effect, it would send a chilling message to clean energy investors, developers, manufacturers, construction firm, engineers and sustainable businesses that the state can change the rules at the eleventh hour,” he wrote Maryland House Speaker Michael Busch.

O’Malley notes that rising ocean levels caused by climate change is a bigger threat to the base. The project is also consistent with the state’s 20% renewables mandate by 2022 and his administration’s goal of reducing Maryland’s greenhouse gas emissions 25% by the end of this decade, he says.

Pioneer Green Energy Vice President Adam Cohen says the developer has pledged to continue working with the military to ensure that the project and the base’s testing can successfully co-exist.