Category Archives: SFS News

Pioneer Green Energy offering single turbine demonstration

NOTE:  RE-RELEASED today 08-22-2015 as this is now pertinent to the possible re-introduction of their industrial wind turbines along with the newest Solar Projects.  WEBMASTER

By BRUCE HOTCHKISS Senior Editor , Delmarva Farmer

WESTOVER, Md. (Feb. 3, 2015) — In the face of continuing opposition to its Great Bay Wind Farm in lower Somerset County, Md., Pioneer Green Energy is proposing a demonstration project — a single wind turbine, just under 500 feet high, in the area of the town of Westover.

“We think it would be great,” said Paul Harris, who is directing the Great Bay development for Pioneer Green.

It would allow concerned residents to witness what Pioneer Green has in mind, “to show them what exactly this is all about,” Harris said. “It would be a great educational tool for the county,” he said.

The demonstration tower, as proposed, would be one foot under the limit established by the U.S. Navy to protect the airways around its Patuxent Naval Air Station and even as a single tower it must pass muster at all levels of government.

Pioneer Green launched the Great Bay project in 2010. Harris said its investment to this point is between $3.5 and $4 million. He said agreements for land use have been signed with more than 200 landowners across lower Somerset County. The project, as envisioned, would involve between 25 and 50 turbines.

Meanwhile, the local group vigorously opposing the project, Safe For Somerset, has called on Somerset County commissioners to delay plans for the wind project because of what it alleges to be a “new health and safety concerns, threats to national security, and new evidence of possible ethics violations by elected officials who are considering approval of the project.” Harvey Kagan, the group’s spokesperson cited medical literature which documents sicknesses linked to wind turbines.

These health claims were recently given new credence when the Brown County, Wis,, Board of Health declared their industrial wind turbines a public health hazard, he said. Kagan referred to reports of blade failure, ice throw, tower collapse and fire resulting from turbine mechanical failure.

Although relatively infrequent, the risk and severity of these accidents increases with turbine height, according to Kagan.  The 400- to 700-foot turbines proposed by Pioneer Green would be among the tallest in the nation, he said.

Kagan referred to a decision last August by Pioneer Green to withdraw plans for projects in Alabama because the company could not meet minimum requirements for health and safety established there. “If Pioneer Green’s safety standards are unacceptable in Alabama, why are the same standards acceptable here?” Kagan asked.

Regarding “setbacks” or distances deemed safe between turbines and human activity, he said, “During the deliberations about this project, voices on the commission that rose to increase setbacks to scientifically-established safe distances were publicly ridiculed, and eventually silenced.

Distance from turbines was decided in favor of the developer,” Kagan said. “Our officials have cast a blind eye and dismissed the risks, placing in harm’s way the citizens they represent.”

But perhaps the most serious allegations of Kagan concerned the ethics of county officials.

He alleged, for example, that the commissioners were found to have completed the wrong financial disclosure forms and were found not in compliance with the county ethics ordinance or state ethics laws.

Direct conflicts of interest by county commissioners may also exist, according to Kagan.  He said that the group has identified several county officials who have made or will be making critical legislative decisions on this project who have close family or business ties with holders of wind turbine leases.

Kagan also criticized commissioners’ lack of openness and transparency in consideration of the project, claiming that the commissioners have intentionally kept residents uninformed, particularly about the proximity of the turbines to homes.

“This has purposely been done to make residents believe the construction will not affect them,” Kagan said.

Obama’s wind-energy lobby gets blown away

Credit:  By Robert Bryce, Aug. 18, 2015 – wsj.com

Chalk one up for the bald eagle. The avian symbol of American freedom has beaten the Obama administration and the wind industry in court, though the majestic birds still don’t stand a chance when flying near the subsidy-fueled blades of green-energy production.

On Aug. 11, a federal judge in the Northern District of California shot down a rule proposed by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) that would have allowed the wind industry to legally kill bald eagles and golden eagles for up to three decades.

The ruling is a setback for the wind industry and President Obama’s Clean Power Plan, which depends on tripling domestic wind-energy capacity to meet the plan’s projected cuts in carbon-dioxide emissions by 2030. The ruling also exposes the Obama administration’s cozy relationship with the wind industry and the danger to wildlife posed by a major expansion of wind-energy capacity.

U.S. District Judge Lucy H. Koh, an Obama appointee, ruled in favor of the plaintiff, the American Bird Conservancy, and against the FWS’s “eagle take” rule. Judge Koh found that the FWS violated the National Environmental Policy Act in 2013 when the agency’s director, Dan Ashe, decided that the agency could issue permits to wind-energy companies that would have allowed them to lawfully kill eagles for up to 30 years without first doing an environmental-impact assessment. Permits were previously limited to five years.

Mr. Ashe, an Obama nominee who has headed the FWS since 2011, ignored the advice of a staff member who warned him, according to the ruling, that “real, significant, and cumulative biological impacts will result” if the eagle-kill permits were extended from five to 30 years. Rather than listen to his staff, Mr. Ashe sided with the wind-energy lobby, which pushed hard for the 30-year permits. More than a dozen wind companies have applied for eagle-kill permits.

Bird kills in general, and eagle kills in particular, are a legal and public-relations nightmare for an industry that promotes itself as “green.” The FWS and the Justice Department have been reluctant to prosecute the wind industry for killing protected birds – bringing only two cases against wind-energy companies over the past two years – even though a study published in the March 2013 issue of the Wildlife Society Bulletin found that wind turbines in the U.S. kill some 573,000 birds and 880,000 bats each year. The study also said there is an “urgent need to improve fatality monitoring methods” at wind facilities.

Under the Clean Power Plan, the Energy Department projects that wind-generation capacity will surge from 66 gigawatts in 2014 to some 200 gigawatts in 2030. But for that expansion to happen, the federal government will have to give wind companies formal permission to kill some of our most iconic wildlife. And that’s where the raptor meets the turbine blade.

The Clean Power Plan relies on wind more than any other form of renewable energy to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. Achieving those reductions will require covering roughly 54,000 square miles of land (an area about the size of New York state) with tens of thousands of new turbines.

Those turbines will be killing birds and bats in far greater numbers than they are now. Yet the federal government has no clear policies for how it will handle the impending slaughter or to what extent it will prosecute wind-energy companies for violating the 1940 Bald and Golden Eagle Protection Act and the 1918 Migratory Bird Treaty Act.

The rationale being used by renewable-energy promoters and the Obama administration is that future climate change trumps today’s wildlife concerns. Therefore, we have to kill lots of birds and bats with turbines to save them from the possibility of climate change. Never mind that whatever carbon-dioxide cuts we achieve will be swamped by soaring emissions growth in places like Brazil, India and Indonesia.

Meanwhile, the killing by wind turbines continues. On July 25 a wounded female golden eagle was found near a turbine at the Altamont Pass Wind Resource Area in northern California. A local 2008 study estimated that the Altamont wind facility kills some 60 golden eagles, 2,500 raptors and 7,000 non-raptors each year. The injured eagle was taken to a wildlife hospital where veterinarians found the bird’s wing had been “shredded.” Saving the bird was deemed futile and the eagle was euthanized.

Last week an FWS spokesman told me the agency is “looking into the circumstances surrounding” the eagle death at Altamont.

Court sends 30-year eagle kill permits back to drawing board

Credit:  By Chris Clarke | Rewire | August 13, 2015 | www.kcet.org

A federal judge has spiked a U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service plan to issue 30-year-long permits to industry that would allow companies to kill bald and golden eagles.

Judge Lucy Koh of the U.S. District Court in San Jose ruled Monday that USFWS acted illegally when it approved the permits without analyzing the policy’s likely environmental impact as required by federal law. Koh ordered the agency to conduct a full environmental assessment of the policy. The permits, which would have allowed accidental “take” of bald and golden eagles at wind power sites and other industrial facilities, were created after wind power companies objected that a previously proposed system of five-year permits wouldn’t allow them to obtain business loans.

According to this week’s court ruling USFWS Director Dan Ashe implemented the 30-year take permits over the strenuous objections of USFWS scientists and other staff, who said the 30-year rule was scientifically unjustifiable and legally flawed. Now, Judge Koh has backed up those Fish and Wildlife staffers.

The ruling comes as the result of a lawsuit filed by Northern California naturalist Debra Shearwater and four other individual plaintiffs, along with the American Bird Conservancy, against the Interior Department and the USFWS in 2014. The American Wind Energy Association later intervened in the case as an additional defendant.

In September 2009, USFWS established the first-ever procedure by which it would issue take permits for eagles under the Bald and Golden Eagle Protection Act (BGEPA). That law prohibits a wide range of harm to both bald and golden eagles, ranging from intentional killing to harassment, capture, disturbance, and trapping. The take permits would provide a means for companies to avoid prosecution for violating BGEPA if their otherwise legal activities ended up injuring or killing eagles.

But wind power development started growing dramatically after September 2009, and wind companies – which pose an increasing threat to eagles and other raptors as they spread across the landscape – complained that five-year permits would make them financially unstable. Lenders would be less likely to write loans longer than five years for wind companies whose ability to operate might change if they killed too many eagles and didn’t have their permits renewed.

In April 2012, in a nod to the concerns of wind power companies, USFWS proposed extending the term of those five-year take permits to 30 years, citing among its reasons for the change that the agency wanted to “provide more certainty to project proponents and their funding sources.” After a public comment period marked by vociferous opposition to the idea, USFWS issued its final rule establishing 30-year eagle take permits in December 2013. Environmental groups were outraged, while the wind industry said the new rule didn’t go far enough to protect wind company interests.

And critically for purposes of this week’s court ruling, USFWS made that final rule without conducting an environmental assessment of the 30-year permit extension, despite USFWS staff urging the agency consider drafting an Environmental Impact Statement on the policy. Plaintiffs argued that USFWS was legally obligated to review the policy under the terms of the National Environmental Policy Act, the federal law that mandates Environmental Impact Statements for potentially destructive projects and policies.

That decision prompted the lawsuit from Shearwater et al.

When USFWS Director Dan Ashe gave the final order to extend the tenure of eagle take permits from five to 30 years it was an about-face for USFWS, which had previously held that there was no solid scientific justification for take permits lasting more than five years. As we reported in 2012 when the 30-year rule was first proposed, USFWS staff had previously said they couldn’t extend take permits’ tenure past five years, saying:

“[T]he rule limits permit tenure to five years or less because factors may change over a longer period of time such that a take authorized much earlier would later be incompatible with the preservation of the bald eagle or the golden eagle. Accordingly, we believe that five years is a long enough period within which a project proponent can identify when the proposed activity will result in take.”

In other words, over a span of more than five years the degree of threat an individual facility poses to eagles might become more dire, as migration patterns shift or eagle populations dwindle. Technological advances that would allow companies to better protect eagles might also arise in a five-year period, and USFWS would have the option of requiring those measures during a permit renewal process.

Judge Koh’s ruling confirmed suspicions voiced by many outside observers that USFWS staff hadn’t changed their minds when agency policy shifted. The shift from 5-year to 30-year eagle take permits didn’t reflect new thinking on the part of the federal scientists charged with safeguarding our nation’s wildlife: it came as Director Ashe sought to address industry concerns about access to loans.

The ruling includes some rather scathing comments by USFWS staff on the top-down imposition of the new rule without environmental analysis. Eliza Savage, USFWS’ Eagle Program Manager for the agency’s Division of Migratory Bird Management, was largely responsible for drafting the language of the 30-year rule. Judge Koh’s ruling cites Savage’s analysis of the task with which she was charged:

Calling the process a “train wreck” that “no one could be proud of,” Ms. Savage warned: “Once again, we find ourselves having taken sloppy action that we will have to do over instead of doing things the way they should have been done to begin with.”

In a telling passage Savage gives a glimpse at turmoil over the rule within USFWS, citing as steadfast opponents of the rule “the wind industry, the enviros, Native American tribes, general public, and the biologists and other staff within [USFWS] who will have to implement it.” Savage added that it was a “no-brainer” that USFWS should conduct an assessment of the new rule under the National Environmental Policy Act.

“Real, significant, and cumulative biological impacts will result,” wrote Savage in a USFWS memo, “if the proposed regulatory changes are implemented.”

USFWS staff met with Ashe in October 2012, according to the ruling, to urge him to conduct a full Environmental Impact Statement analysis of the effects of longer take permits. Dismissing the chances that anyone would challenge the legality of the rule in court, Ashe ordered his staff to prepare the 30-year permit rule.

Three years later, a federal judge has echoed those USFWS staff, except that her recommendation can’t be blithely disregarded, as it has the force of law. Lesson for Dan Ashe: listen to your staff. You just wasted three years.

Judge rules for eagles over wind power

Credit:  By ELIZABETH WARMERDAM | Courthouse News Service | August 13, 2015

SAN JOSE (CN) – A federal judge Tuesday rejected a federal regulation allowing wind companies to kill or injure bald and golden eagles without prosecution for 30 years, citing lack of proper environmental review.

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service issued the rule in December 2013, allowing wind energy projects, electric utilities and timber operations to obtain eagle take permits lasting up to 30 years, rather than 5 years.

But U.S. District Judge Lucy Koh found that Fish and Wildlife did not complete a National Environmental Policy Act-compliant impact statement or environmental assessment before increasing the eagle take permits sixfold.

Eric Glitzenstein, attorney for the American Bird Conservancy, told Courthouse News that while expansion of renewable energy is “vitally important,” there is “a right way to do it and a wrong way to do it.”

“As this ruling makes clear, the wrong way is for the government to cut legal corners, ignore its own environmental experts, and needlessly jeopardize eagles and other protected species,” he said.

Bald and golden eagles are not endangered species, but are protected by the Bald and Golden Eagle Protection Act, which prohibits anyone from killing, injuring or disturbing eagles, incidentally or intentionally.

But the Fish and Wildlife Service can issue permits for the “take” – killing or disturbing – of eagles if they are “compatible with the preservation” of eagles and “necessary to protect an interest in a particular locality.”

In 2009, Fish and Wildlife adopted a rule setting the maximum duration for each permit to take eagles at 5 years. After 5 years, applicants can request renewal, allowing Fish and Wildlife to re-evaluate the permit conditions to determine whether more eagles were killed than anticipated.

In December 2013, the government sextupled the take period, to allow companies to obtain 30-year permits to kill eagles legally.

The American Bird Conservancy called it a response to the wind power industry’s desire to expand into eagle habitat.

Indeed, the regulation itself states that the primary purpose of the expansion was to “facilitate the responsible development of renewable energy and other projects designed to operate for decades.”

The Conservancy challenged the rule , saying it was adopted “in flagrant violation of the National Environmental Policy Act because the Service did not prepare any document analyzing the environmental impacts of the rule change.”

Judge Koh agreed, noting that Fish and Wildlife elected not to prepare an environmental impact statement or an environmental assessment, and improperly relied on a two-part categorical exclusion to avoid NEPA review.

Fish and Wildlife determined that the 30-year rule was merely administrative in nature and that the rule’s “environmental effects are too broad, speculative, or conjectural to lend themselves to meaningful analysis,” Koh wrote.

But its decision to increase the take permits to 30 years was not merely administrative in nature, Koh said.

“(T)here is no serious dispute that a sixfold increase in the maximum duration of programmatic eagle take permits will have the effect of reducing public participation in permitting decisions. Over the lifespan of a 30-year permit, a project might be subject to NEPA’s public participation requirements only once, when that permit is first issued,” Koh said in the 46-page ruling.

“By contrast, a project under a 5-year permitting regime would be subject to NEPA’s public participation requirement six times during that same 30-year period. FWS’s apparent compromise to make eagle mortality data compiled by permittees every 5 years ‘available to the public’ in some unspecified manner is no substitute for the public’s right under NEPA to participate in permitting decisions.”

Also, the primary purpose of the 30-year rule was to facilitate energy generation projects. The wind industry had criticized the 5-year rule as “fundamentally unworkable for the industry considering the life of most wind projects is 20 to 30 years,” according to the ruling.

The Secretary of the Interior acknowledged that the rule would help the renewable industry develop longer-term projects. Because the wind industry’s substantive concerns ultimately resulted in the 30-year rule, Koh “fails to see how the regulation could be considered strictly administrative.”

She also rejected Fish and Wildlife’s claim that the environmental effects of the rule are too speculative for meaningful analysis.

County leaders take up ethics law amendments

6 recommendations made but 3 of them not embraced

By Richard Crumbacker   Crisfield-Somerset County Times – July 15, 2015

PRINCESS ANNE — The reporting of gifts valued at $20 or more by all county employees and the expansion of who is a “qualified relative” under the Somerset County ethics ordinance are two changes recommended by the Ethics Commission that received a cool reception from the County Commissioners.

A third asks that the financial disclosure requirement be extended on a limited basis not only to members of the Ethics Commission but the Planning and Zoning Commission and Board of Zoning Appeals. “This may not be an immediate need,” said Ethics Commission Chairman Piet deWitt, but “certain boards and commissions have important functions… and the public needs to know who the people are.”

The appointed ethics board endorsed these and three other amendments to the local ordinance that came about during its inquiry into conflict of interest claims by Safe for Somerset as wind turbine regulations were being drafted. Mr. deWitt presented the recommendations to elected leaders during their July 7 work session, and future consideration now rests with them.

The first change rewrites a financial disclosure section to state that within 30 days from receipt of a gift of $20 or more “from any person that contracts with or is regulated by the County,” appointed officials and employees “notify the Ethics Commission” with the name of the gift giver, when the gift was received and its approximate value.

“That would be done on a single page form,” Mr. deWitt said, and be much like what the County Commissioners already fill out. “The people who receive the gift would not be required to fill out an entire financial disclosure form, simply that one page and report it to the Ethics Commission,” he explained.

Likewise, a county employee or board appointee who is employed elsewhere must disclose that to the Ethics Commission so any conflict of interest or “potential conflict” is known to the public.

Commissioner Craig Mathies Sr. said there are many county employees that are not in a position to make decisions or enact policy. While he had no problem with a disclosure of gifts if the person is a public official, director or supervisor, it goes too far to include “regular county employees” such as a transfer station attendant who may be tipped for helping someone dispose of their trash.

 

Ethics board seeks to expand financial disclosure mandate

Would add the zoning board of appeals and planning commission
(see the CC Meeting Agenda for 7/7/15 by clicking here)

By Richard Crumbacker  Crisfield-Somerset County Times – July 1, 2015

PRINCESS ANNE — Members of the Somerset County Ethics Commission unanimously recommended that not only they complete a financial disclosure form but it be extended as a requirement to serve on the Planning and Zoning Commission and Board of Zoning Appeals.

That recommendation, along with others, were approved during the ethics board’s meeting last Wednesday and forwarded to the County Commissioners for their consideration.

“This one may raise some eyebrows,” said Piet deWitt, chairman of the five member ethics panel. He said the planning commission in particular “ has a big job” entertaining proposals to determine what’s right and wrong for the county, “and the people need to know who sits there.”

During the drafting of a wind energy ordinance members of Safe for Somerset formally complained about planning commission members who had family that held leases with Pioneer Green, the wind developer that has since abandoned its plans in the county. Now this advisory board is discussing amendments to poultry house regulations, and at least one member, Glenn Ains, lives on a chicken farm.

During a work session May 21 Mr. deWitt met with the planning commission and advised members to be aware of conflicts of interest, and if unsure of their standing, to ask the Ethics Commission for guidance. “It’s possible that somebody could decide that if you raise chickens you shouldn’t be sitting on the Planning and Zoning Board discussing chicken houses,” Mr. deWitt said, but he was not going to give his singular off-the- cuff opinion during that forum.

“I do believe there is some concern about the boards,” Mr. deWitt said, adding, “if there isn’t, there should be, and the public has the right to know who is holding up their interests.” The financial disclosure form recommendation is ultimately decided by the County Commissioners, “ which may refuse (it),” he said.

The County Commissioners and others have said previously it’s very difficult to find residents willing to serve on boards and commissions and requiring a financial disclosure form could further limit the pool. Mr. deWitt said he is “ well aware” of that concern, but “We’re not talking about every commission, or every board,” and numerically, “it’s not a huge number of people.” In addition to the seven planning board members, there are five regular and one alternate member on the BZA.

Safe for Somerset member Tammy Truitt told Ethics Commission members that she is concerned about the directors on the Somerset County Economic Development Commission, and their disclosure requirements. She said projects it reviews could benefit family members. Likewise Kathryn Washburn inquired if the EDC’s executive director is subject to a financial disclosure statement.

While it was not immediately known what the requirements were for this quasi-governmental body, ethics board attorney Kirk Simpkins said if the Ethics Commission wants to include the EDC it should adopt that recommendation for the County Commissioners to consider.

A work session with the County Commissioners is set for July 7. Other issues to be discussed include recommendations that employees and county leaders file a disclosure form upon receipt of a gift associated with his or her official capacity, that “qualified relative” in the financial disclosure form be clarified to be the same as “immediate family” as defined in the county ordinance, and add a question on the financial disclosure form about any property in Somerset County where a qualified relative resides or owns.

On that last point Mr. deWitt said those who are required to complete the financial disclosure form “must be proactive” to accurately fill it out. “The ‘I don’t know’ answer can’t be an acceptable answer,” he said. “ You have to make some effort” to find out. During the wind turbine debate planning commission member Kevin Anderson was not certain if his sister’s husband had a land lease with Pioneer Green, which Safe for Somerset pointed out in its complaint.

“What we got was basically ‘I don’t communicate with my relatives’,” Mr. deWitt said when the complaint was investigated. “Well, sorry, but in this case you’re in a position where you accepted this responsibility, and with it comes a responsibility to find it out.”

 

County leaders cool to some ethics code changes

Tightens ‘qualified relative’ section to include in-laws; expands disclosure form

By Richard Crumbacker Crisfield-Somerset County Times

May 20, 2015

PRINCESS ANNE — A tightening of the ethics code governing Somerset County’s elected and appointed officials in addition to employees is under consideration by the County Commissioners.

The recommendations formulated in March and April by the Ethics Commission arose during its investigation into allegations by Safe for Somerset of business interests involving family members of county representatives with the now-abandoned Great Bay Wind Energy Center.

The five member appointed board agreed unanimously there were no conflicts of interest, but along the way called for a broadening of the definition of a “qualified relative” whose financial position would be required to be disclosed. It also endorsed the elimination of a salary threshold and instead recommends “all appointed officials and employees” file a financial disclosure form.

A “qualified relative” in the ordinance means a spouse, parent, child or sibling. The Ethics Commission seeks to include “and the spouse of a parent, child or sibling.” As Commissioner President Randy Laird pointed out, “this is dealing with in-laws,” which for Commissioner Jerry Boston hits close to home. “I know a lot of this is directed at me,” Mr. Boston said. While his son-in-law Douglas Reynolds was involved with a land-lease with wind turbine developer Pioneer Green, Mr. Boston said his direct relationship is only with his daughter Ashley. “I have no true bearing over him, he married my daughter,” adding that the Ethics Commission in its probe “didn’t find anything wrong with it.”

Nevertheless, Mr. Boston said  “I’ll go along with whatever everybody else wants to do,” but he personally thought it was “too much.”

If the change is made, the financial disclosure form will also need to be amended to include a schedule denoting “the spouse of a parent, child(ren) or sibling(s).” Commissioner Craig Mathies Sr. said if the ethics board is specifically seeking financial disclosure forms from a spouse or children, “that’s ludicrous.”

Another change even less popular involved the expansion of the financial disclosure mandate onto “all appointed officials and employees.” Currently this is limited to those drawing a salary of $110,000 or more and no one meets that threshold.

Managing this would be unwieldy, said County Administrator Doug Taylor. “I think that’s a little drastic,” he explained. “It would be an administrative nightmare to have every employee in county government file a financial disclosure form.” Perhaps decision-makers should comply, he suggested, as an alternative.

E-MAIL from TODD MORGAN to Tammy Truitt

FAA requested Pioneer Green pull their aeronautical study so they could close the case. Pioneer Green response was :  no they would not.

See Todd Morgan response below.

From: Morgan, Todd <TODD.B.MORGAN@saic.com>
To: Tammy Truitt <jtr1049240@aol.com> Sent: Thu, May 7, 2015 2:25 pm

Subject: Great bay

They won’t go away.

They told the FAA that they would not ‎terminate the aeronautical study.

Waiting on MIT results in December.   Not sure what the next FAA move is.

PIONEER GREEN SOLAR lays out its plan

By Richard Crumbacker Crisfield-Somerset County Times April 22, 2015

PRINCESS ANNE — An affiliate of a Texas-based company that recently abandoned its Great Bay Wind Energy Center announced it will soon be applying for permits for the Great Bay Solar Project.

This expansive collection of photovoltaic cells in up to six locations would dwarf the two solar farms already generating power in Somerset County, and if built out entirely, represents an investment of $225 million.

Pioneer Green Solar has a power purchase agreement with an unnamed customer to sell 75 megawatts of electricity and it projects it can double that if additional contracts are signed. Limits on land suitability could reduce the maximum capacity, however. “The largest this project can get is 150 MW,” said company VP Cyrus Tashakkori. “It may not be that big [but] that’s how big of an interconnection position we have.”

pioneer green solar project

A project of this scale needs 500 to 1,000 acres and Mr. Tashakkori said land is being evaluated for its suitability. “These are active farm parcels,” he said, and based on a satellite view shown April 14 to the County Commissioners the greatest concentration is in the Westover area along Old Princess Anne Road and also south of Keenan Lane off Sign Post Road.

This represents 0.123 percent of the county’s agricultural land, Mr. Tashakkori said. By comparison, the solar farm at UMES that was activated in March 2011 occupies 17 acres and produces up to 2.2 MW for the university. In April 2013 Chesapeake Renewable Energy and its partners started producing up to 3.66 MW on 25 acres for the University of Maryland Medical System in Baltimore.

In addition to the company’s direct investment, and labor needed for construction, the conservative tax benefit anticipated to Somerset County over 30 years is $1.25 to $2.5 million per year “added to the county’s budget starting in year one,” Mr. Tashakkori said. With the county now collecting $13.7 million overall, “this would be a very significant annual investment in tax dollars,” he said, and that does not include indirect benefits from jobs and spending.

“We’re dealing with some of the bigger farmers in the county, and for them it really represents a diversification of revenues that allows them to continue in their agricultural activities,” Mr. Tashakkori said.

Commissioner Craig Mathies Sr. did not specifically mention Pioneer Green’s wind program, but said past projects that have come before the commissioners had numbers that would change over time. “Some of the numbers in the past didn’t seem feasible,” he said, and for budgeting purposes the revenue of this project is such that “it’s imperative that we would have a realistic number.”

Mr. Tashakkori said he understood, and said the estimates are on the conservative side. Depreciation is also a factor but that will erode the total value by around 3 percent a year. “I’m not on the wind side of the business,” he said. “I can tell you, comparing the two, the wind project took many, many years to mature and never matured obviously.”

He continued, “There’s a lot more uncertainty with the wind side,” but the he reiterated that the power purchase and interconnectivity agreements are in hand, and “ we are actually moving forward to start construction 12 months from today.” “The wind project was never that mature. The company spent $3 plus million and invested heavily in the county and obviously still didn’t get to the state of maturity that this project already has.”

“We don’t want to over promise and under deliver in any sense, in the spirit of being as transparent as possible.”

Because this is connecting to the utility grid, the state permitting process must be followed. A Certificate of Public Convenience and Necessity (CPCN) is the first step, and could take six to eight months to obtain, and building permits would be obtained from the county for construction to start by April 2016. If things proceed without interruptions, it would be in operation by the end of 2016.

“A pretty compressed timeline,” Mr. Tashakkori said, with taxes paid beginning in 2017.

If the project does not use more than 10 percent of the electricity generated on- site, the Public Service Commission (PSC) approval process “supersedes local zoning.” Gary Pusey, director of the Somerset County Department of Technical and Community Services in answering inquiries from Safe for Somerset noted that while the PSC has to give “due consideration” to the county’s views, unlike the Costen Road facility Board of Zoning Appeals and Planning and Zoning Commission approvals will not be required.

“If more than 10 percent of the electricity from the generating facility is used on- site, then local zoning applies,” he wrote, “ but that doesn’t appear to be the case with Pioneer Green’s project, since they’ll be sending their power directly to the grid.” Mr. Pusey added however that “Practically speaking” he would expect the PSC to want to coincide with local zoning, such as setbacks, if they became an issue.

Todd Chason, a member of the environmental and energy government relations practice with the Baltimore-based law firm Gordon- Feinblatt is counsel for Pioneer Green Solar. He shepherded through the first solar CPCN issued in Maryland for a 20 MW facility in Hagerstown, and he said one is under construction in Charles County. Another is going through permitting in Dorchester County.

Mr. Chason said Somerset’s will also go through an extensive review with several agencies through the PPRP, or Power Plant Research Program. From that conditions will be formulated on issues such as wetlands restrictions and mowing requirements.

The county can be part of the process along the way, “to actually sit with the judge in reviewing the case,” Mr. Chason said, or like the public simply comment and offer recommendations.

“It’s a big construction project,” Mr. Tashakkori said, and 500 to 600 temporary workers would be needed for most of one year for the 75 MW size. There’s not a lot of concrete involved, but pile driving, setting steel on the piles and installing the panels would require labor as would the design and electrical connections. There would be less than 10 jobs required across the whole project over its 30 year life, he said.

“We will have a job fair, we will hire locally to the extent folks in these industries are available,” Mr. Tashakkori said. “It makes the most sense.”

More financial disclosure endorsed by ethics board

County Commissioners asked to redefine ‘qualified relative’

By Richard Crumbacker Crisfield-Somerset County Times April 15, 2015

PRINCESS ANNE — The County Commissioners are now considering recommendations by the Somerset County Ethics Commission that would expand who submits a financial disclosure form and broadens what it means to be a “qualified relative” subject to the requirements of the ethics ordinance.

In its report that cleared certain elected and appointed officials of conflict of interest charges as alleged by Safe for Somerset, the ethics panel concluded, “more should be done to ensure compliance and engender confidence and integrity in governmental officials and employees.”

For example, there is currently no requirement that appointed officials or employees complete a financial disclosure form unless the salary is $110,000 or more. There are no county employees that fall within this definition. The recommendation is that “All county employees and officials should be required to disclose these matters, regardless of their compensation.”

Also endorsed is adding to the “qualified relative” definition of spouse, parent, child or sibling to include “and the spouse of a parent, child or sibling.” The complaint by Safe for Somerset cited in-laws as being leaseholders with Pioneer Green, the former wind developer. It was because of the company’s interest in Somerset County that planning board members were working on a wind turbine ordinance.

It is requested that the financial disclosure forms seek information about not only about the employee and spouse but the spouse’s parents, children or siblings.

“There are several changes, such as potential financial disclosure for all appointed officials and employees, changes in definitions of qualified relatives, and terminology regarding direct financial interest in anything with the county,” said Doug Taylor, county administrator.

“The Ethics Commission did a tremendous amount of work on this,” and Mr. Taylor urged the commissioners to study the findings for a future discussion.

Later in the meeting Mr. Taylor asked for nominees for the Social Services board, and Commissioner President Randy Laird said, “It’s going to be harder when they have to fill out a financial [disclosure] form.”

“ You ain’t gonna find nobody,” replied Vice President Charles Fisher.