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Pioneer Green Energy offering single-turbine demonstration
By BRUCE HOTCHKISS
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 Patuxant 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.