Thursday, April 9, 2015, By DANIEL DIVILIO firstname.lastname@example.org myeasternshoremd.com ~~
CHESTERTOWN — Concerns continue to grow over a proposed wind farm in the Kennedyville area, with local residents and officials seeking to keep Apex Clean Energy from building 500-foot-tall turbines in the heart of Kent County’s farming community.
Apex is seeking to lease land from property owners between state routes 213 and 291. The Virginia-based company plans to put 25 to 35 turbines in the area for its Mills Branch Wind project.
A grassroots organization called Keep Kent Scenic formed about a month ago. It launched a website, keepkentscenic.org, highlighting locals’ concerns about the project.
Judy Giffords, owner of St. Brigid’s Farm, shown here, is concerned about the potential effects a proposed wind farm in the Kennedyville area could have on her dairy herd. Photo by EDWIN REMSBERG
Judy Gifford has a dairy operation, St. Brigid’s Farm, in the area the turbines are to be located. Using the Keep Kent Scenic website as a starting point, she has been researching wind farms, and what she has found has her very concerned.
Speaking last month in an interview, Gifford said prime farmland is being taken up in Kent County for very cheap. She said those property owners who have signed up with Apex are not going to pocket very much money from the project.
Those who favor the prospects for green energy from wind turbines should do more research, Gifford said, because what they will find would scare them.
“People really need to be informed,” she said.
As a dairy farmer, Gifford is very concerned about the effects wind turbines may have on her herd. She pointed to stray voltage — the unintentional release of electricity in the area around a generating source of power.
A commonly cited concern with stray voltage is when an animal, such as a cow, completes an electrical circuit by touching an inadvertently electrified water trough while standing on a wet concrete floor. The shock is not fatal, but may lead to behavior changes in the animal.
“The impact to dairy farms is frightening,” Gifford said.
Gifford said turbines are inefficient and produce power at times when it is not needed. She said the focus should be on improving the energy efficiency of homes and upgrading existing power plants.
“I just can’t believe this is coming to our community,” Gifford said of Mills Branch Wind. “I see absolutely no benefit.”
Gifford is thankful for the local officials and volunteers who worked on various studies, ordinances and Kent County’s comprehensive plan, establishing a set of regulations and priorities for alternative energy.
The county allows 120-foot wind turbines for personal use only, not 500-foot turbines for industrial energy production. Apex representatives have said they are required to go through the state’s Public Service Commission for approval, leaving residents here concerned about the company skirting local control over the project.
Ensuring local control led county officials and others to Annapolis Tuesday, April 7 to testify before a state Senate committee. The hearing was for a bill submitted by state Sen. Stephen S. Hershey Jr., R-36-Upper Shore, that would require the Kent County Commissioners to sign off on the wind farm before the PSC could allow Apex to proceed.
Speaking in a phone interview before the hearing, Wayne Gilchrest, director of the Sassafras Environmental Education Center and former 1st District congressman, said he has concerns about the project, the most significant being local control over the approval process.
Like others in the community, he questions whether there is enough wind in the area to make the project viable. He worries about the potential for issues with noise, migratory birds and farm aviation.
He also questions whether or not the project would be financially viable without alternative energy subsidies meant for permanent projects replacing coal plants. Apex is looking at termed leases with farmers, not permanent agreements.
“The alternative energy working group, the Kent County Commissioners, the community at large, I think, needs a process in which they can make a significant, thoughtful contribution to the Apex project and to alternative energy options as well,” Gilchrest said.
While some siding with Keep Kent Scenic are discounting wind farms as a viable source of alternative energy, Gilchrest sees value in them.
“Given our stage of development of alternative energy technologies, then pursuing wind turbines is an important mix into the whole transition away from fossil fuels. So in certain places, the industrial-grade wind turbines can be appropriate. In other places, fewer or smaller-scale wind farms would be equally, if not more appropriate with a mix of solar and geothermal,” Gilchrest said.
Sabine Harvey, a horticulture specialist with the University of Maryland Extension, said she, personally, is concerned about how quickly some members of the community jumped in opposing the project. In an April 7 interview, she said people should take their time and make an informed decision.
In this age of electronics, energy demands are high. Harvey said moving away from fossil fuels requires a replacement power source.
“I just want people to think about it a little bit because you can’t have it both ways” Harvey said.
Harvey has not made a decision on whether she favors Apex’s plans or not. She does have a “major problem” with the apparent lack of local control over the project.
College and QACA
In a pair of letters, Washington College interim President Jack “Jay” Griswold voiced his concerns over the Mills Branch Wind project to the Washington College community and state Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller Jr. Seeking support for Hershey’s bill, he suggested community members sign an online petition in favor of Hershey’s bill or take a vacation day to testify at the bill’s April 7 hearing.
“At Washington College, we value ‘unhurried conversations’ where all sides of an issue can be explored and discussed before a decision is made. Apex Clean Energy will short-circuit the opportunity with local residents,” Griswold wrote to the community, adding that Hershey’s bill would close the “loophole” allowing Apex to circumvent the county approval process.
Griswold also outlined his concerns over how the project will ruin Kent County’s “rapidly disappearing” scenic beauty with 49 turbines taller than the Legg Mason Tower in Baltimore and about the potential destruction a “wall of turbine blades” would have on migratory waterfowl.
“It will despoil one of Maryland’s great-undeveloped landscapes — a landscape that remains much as it did 233 years ago when Washington College was founded under the patronage of our nation’s first president. We will not be able to reclaim this natural heritage once it is lost,” he wrote in his letter to Miller.
Queen Anne’s Conservation Association joined the fight against Apex late last month when it reportedly filed a Public Information Act request with Kent County government regarding Mills Branch Wind.
“In filing our PIA request, we are taking a first step to join with Washington College, the citizens of Keep Kent Scenic, and the Kent County Commissioners themselves in their unanimous opposition to this almost unbelievable project,” QACA Executive Director Jay Falstad said in an April 1 news release.
According to the release, Falstad has reviewed a copy of the lease agreement landowners are signing with Apex. He said the leases are one-sided, forcing landowners to hand over control of their property to Apex.
“This environmentally destructive project has nothing to do with good alternative forms of electric power generation, like solar, but instead is a reckless grab for federal subsidies for a thoroughly bad project in a totally inappropriate place. And because the Apex lease is so invasive to the landowner’s property rights, getting people to sign these leases amounts to federally subsidized takings of farmland,” Falstad said.
In an April 6 interview, Sal Agostino, president of the Sassafras River Business Council, said he not seen enough about Mills Branch Wind to form an opinion on the project. He suggested, though, that officials work on finding a way of using it to promote Galena.
Agostino is familiar with the material Keep Kent Scenic is posting in opposition of the project. He said it shows there are real concerns about it.
“There’s a lot of negative things about it, so it’s something that really needs to be thought of and I think everybody needs to work together,” Agostino said.
Sassafras Riverkeeper Emmett Duke said Apex does not plan on placing any wind turbines within the river’s watershed. Regardless, he said members of the Sassafras River Association have conflicting opinions on the Mills Branch Wind project.
“We’re getting members who are commenting for and against. So we can’t say that we have a consensus that we can represent by taking a public stand on it,” Duke said April 6.
Likewise, the Chester River Association is not taking a stance on Mills Branch Wind.
“CRA is not taking a position on the wind farm because it does not directly impact water quality. In order to make an impact on advancing improvements in the health of the Chester, we really need to stick to what we do,” Executive Director Anna Wolgast wrote in an April 6 email.