How Wind Energy Saved Customers $1 Billion In Just Two Days

January 8th, 2015 by

Originally Published on the ECOreport

Wind energy saved customers $1 billion in two just days last year. Frigid Arctic temperatures spread over the 13 Mid Atlantic and Great Lakes states on January 6 and 7, 2014. There was not enough conventional energy to meet demand. According to the American Wind Energy Association (AWEA), spot princes would have skyrocketed if had there not been an abundance of wind energy available.

Screenshot 2015-01-07 14.44.43

“This number is conservative,” said Michael Goggin, of the American Wind Energy Association. “We didn’t look at how wind helped to keep gas price spikes in check. We only looked at the impact on electricity.”

January 6 started out as a typical winter day, as the cold cold front moved in that evening the demand skyrocketed. People were turning on their heaters. Many conventional power plants were failing. At the peak of the cold snap, 22% of the system’s generation was down. Demand started exceeding supply, resulting in extreme price spikes that you see in the chart above.

If there had not been abundant wind energy available through-out this period, the utilities would have been forced to rely on their most expensive power plants. In some cases, Goggin says the wind energy meant that lights could stay on. Instead there was sufficient wind energy to keep most expensive forms of generation offline. It also freed up some natural gas, which otherwise would have been needed to produce electricity, so that it could be used to heat homes.


Some of Goggin’s conclusions has been confirmed by other sources. As you can see in the diagram above, a Pembina Institute study of 2013 prices in Alberta found wind energy was substantially lower that all alternative forms of energy. The addition of wind energy invariably lowers spot prices, even in normal circumstances and would have an even greater braking effect in a situation where the alternative was high priced peaker plants. A senior  executive from one of the energy storage companies I interviewed confirmed that coal plants go down suddenly and leave far bigger holes in transmission than do renewables. He added that this only happens once or twice a year in his territory.

“One of the primary lessons that has come out of this analysis, is that you don’t want to be overly dependent on one fuel mix,” said Goggin. “No energy resource is 100% reliable.  The cost of accommodating the abrupt outages of conventional power plants, especially a large one, is significantly greater than accommodating changes in wind output.”

(An energy storage company confirmed that a coal plant, for example, leaves a much larger hole in transmission when it goes offline and it happens suddenly, but this only happens once or twice a year in his territory – author.)

Screenshot 2015-01-07 15.32.34

He said this was not an isolated occurrence. Goggin illustrated wind energy’s usefulness using current data which AWEA printed in their press release:

In the last 24 hours wind set a new output record for theMidContinent ISO(MISO) and for theSouthwest Power Pool(SPP), an area that covers much of the Midwest. Wind also performed at near-record levels in thePJM market(PJM).

At about 11 p.m. EST last night, wind set a record output of 11,725 MW of wind generation or enough power for over 9 million average U.S. homes for the MISO region. The MISO area covers all or part of, Michigan, Indiana, Wisconsin, Iowa, Minnesota, North Dakota, South Dakota, Ohio, Missouri and Montana.

At about 6:15 a.m. EST this morning, wind set a record output of 7,625 MW of wind generation or enough power for over 6 million average U.S. homes for the SPP region. The SPP area covers all or part of, Nebraska, Kansas, Oklahoma, Texas, New Mexico, Missouri, Arkansas and Louisiana.

Screenshot 2015-01-07 15.39.14

Turbines begin producing  energy when there are around 8-9 mph winds. They reach peak production at 20-25 mph and can be used up to 55 mph.

“Most wind turbines aren’t designed to work beyond 55 mph  because it almost happens,” said Goggin. “To my knowledge, we didn’t see that happen last year or last night.”

“When you add wind energy it displaced the most expensive energy on the system at that time. Over the long term, you also protect customers from fuel price uncertainty,” said Goggin.

He added, “When your building a power plant today your not just thinking about what the price of fuel is today, you should be thinking about what the price of fuel will be over the life of that power plant. You will always know what the price will be (its’ free, the only costs are mechanical). You can’t say that about any other energy source.”

Note on Images: Aside from the chart of energy prices in Alberta, which comes from the Pembina Institute, all images were taken from the AWEA slide show at Michael Goggins press conference

Solar and Wind Energy Start to Win on Price vs. Conventional Fuels

A wind farm in Weatherford, Okla. In a study, the cost of wind power came in as low as 1.4 cents a kilowatt-hour.CreditPaul Hellstern for The New York Times

For the solar and wind industries in the United States, it has been a long-held dream: to produce energy at a cost equal to conventional sources like coal and natural gas.

That day appears to be dawning.

The cost of providing electricity from wind andsolar power plants has plummeted over the last five years, so much so that in some markets renewable generation is now cheaper than coal or natural gas.

Utility executives say the trend has accelerated this year, with several companies signing contracts, known as power purchase agreements, for solar or wind at prices below that of natural gas, especially in the Great Plains and Southwest, where wind and sunlight are abundant.

Those prices were made possible by generous subsidies that could soon diminish or expire, but recent analyses show that even without those subsidies, alternative energies can often compete with traditional sources.

In Texas, Austin Energy signed a deal this spring for 20 years of output from a solar farm at less than 5 cents a kilowatt-hour. In September, the Grand River Dam Authority in Oklahoma announced its approval of a new agreement to buy power from a new wind farm expected to be completed next year. Grand River estimated the deal would save its customers roughly $50 million from the project.

And, also in Oklahoma, American Electric Power ended up tripling the amount of wind power it had originally sought after seeing how low the bids came in last year.

“Wind was on sale — it was a Blue Light Special,” said Jay Godfrey, managing director of renewable energy for the company. He noted that Oklahoma, unlike many states, did not require utilities to buy power from renewable sources.

“We were doing it because it made sense for our ratepayers,” he said.

According to a study by the investment banking firm Lazard, the cost of utility-scalesolar energy is as low as 5.6 cents a kilowatt-hour, and wind is as low as 1.4 cents. In comparison, natural gas comes at 6.1 cents a kilowatt-hour on the low end and coal at 6.6 cents. Without subsidies, the firm’s analysis shows, solar costs about 7.2 cents a kilowatt-hour at the low end, with wind at 3.7 cents.

“It is really quite notable, when compared to where we were just five years ago, to see the decline in the cost of these technologies,” said Jonathan Mir, a managing director at Lazard, which has been comparing the economics of power generation technologies since 2008.

Mr. Mir noted there were hidden costs that needed to be taken into account for both renewable energy and fossil fuels. Solar andwind farms, for example, produce power intermittently — when the sun is shining or the wind is blowing — and that requires utilities to have power available on call from other sources that can respond to fluctuations in demand. Alternately, conventional power sources produce pollution, like carbon emissions, which face increasing restrictions and costs.

But in a straight comparison of the costs of generating power, Mr. Mir said that the amount solar and wind developers needed to earn from each kilowatt-hour they sell from new projects was often “essentially competitive with what would otherwise be had from newly constructed conventional generation.”

“You can’t dispatch it when you want to,” said Khalil Shalabi, vice president for energy market operations and resource planning at Austin Energy, which is why the utility, like others, still sees value in combined-cycle gas plants, even though they may cost more. Nonetheless, he said, executives were surprised to see how far solar prices had fallen. “Renewables had two issues: One, they were too expensive, and they weren’t dispatchable. They’re not too expensive anymore.”

According to the Solar Energy Industries Association, the main trade group, the price of electricity sold to utilities under long-term contracts from large-scale solar projects has fallen by more than 70 percent since 2008, especially in the Southwest.

The average upfront price to install standard utility-scale projects dropped by more than a third since 2009, with higher levels of production.

The price drop extends to homeowners and small businesses as well; last year, the prices for residential and commercial projects fell by roughly 12 to 15 percent from the year before.

The wind industry largely tells the same story, with prices dropping by more than half in recent years. Emily Williams, manager of industry data and analytics at the American Wind Energy Association, a trade group, said that in 2013 utilities signed “a record number of power purchase agreements and what ended up being historically low prices.”

Especially in the interior region of the country, from North Dakota down to Texas, where wind energy is particularly robust, utilities were able to lock in long contracts at 2.1 cents a kilowatt-hour, on average, she said. That is down from prices closer to 5 cents five years ago.

“We’re finding that in certain regions with certain wind projects that these are competing or coming in below the cost of even existing generation sources,” she said.

Both industries have managed to bring down costs through a combination of new technologies and approaches to financing and operations. Still, the industries are not ready to give up on their government supports just yet.

Already, solar executives are looking to extend a 30 percent federal tax credit that is set to fall to 10 percent at the end of 2016. Wind professionals are seeking renewal of a production tax credit that Congress has allowed to lapse and then reinstated several times over the last few decades.

Senator Ron Wyden, the Oregon Democrat, who for now leads the Finance Committee, held a hearing in September over the issue, hoping to push a process to make the tax treatment of all energy forms more consistent.

“Congress has developed a familiar pattern of passing temporary extensions of those incentives, shaking hands and heading home,” he said at the hearing. “But short-term extensions cannot put renewables on the same footing as the other energy sources in America’s competitive marketplace.”

Where that effort will go now is anybody’s guess, though, with Republicans in control of both houses starting in January.





For Immediate Release
August 14, 2014

Kelly Trout, 240-396-2022,
Mike Tidwell, 240-460-5838,


Leaders release letter from 21 national and state groups urging U.S. Senator to make a real commitment to clean energy on behalf of Maryland and the nation

ANNAPOLIS — A group of environmental and Eastern Shore leaders today announced an effort to persuade U.S. Sen. Barbara Mikulski to withdraw language she recently inserted into a Defense Appropriations bill that would terminate efforts to build a clean energy wind project in Somerset County.

The leaders released a letter signed by 21 national, state and local environmental and clean energy organizations warning that, for a state that has championed efforts to promote clean energy, the language “would be a huge step back in the progress that Maryland has achieved, and the negative impacts of the bill could reverberate across the country for years to come.” The letter emphasizes, “This bill language sends a signal that wind energy investments are not welcome in Maryland and creates an uncertain business climate that we fear could have ripple effects elsewhere.”

Earlier this spring, both Governor Martin O’Malley and Comptroller Peter Franchot concluded that existing federal and state laws provide adequate protection to the military testing interests at the Patuxent River (PAX River) Naval Air Station. Following the General Assembly session, the governor vetoed legislation that would have blocked the Eastern Shore wind project. That veto cleared the way for construction of the $200 million Somerset County wind farm, and for a wind power industry on the Eastern Shore worth an estimated $1 billion—all now under threat from Senator Mikulski’s language.

The letter reminds Senator Mikulski that the Ike Skelton National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2011 requires the wind project developers and the Navy to continue moving forward with good faith negotiations to find a solution that allows the clean energy facility to be built in a way that minimizes the impact on military bases such as PAX River.

The full letter follows below. Key leaders who object to Senator Mikulski’s language released the following statements:

Maryland Senator Jim Mathias, Democrat, Eastern Shore: “This project represents an important opportunity for both economic development and clean energy on the Eastern Shore. I truly believe that all of the science demonstrates that it is possible to craft a win-win agreement allowing the job creation to take place in our community without jeopardizing anything in Southern Maryland. I was so pleased when both Governor O’Malley and Comptroller Franchot, after stepping back and reviewing the research, agreed.”

Mary Ann Peterman, a fourth generation landowner in Somerset County whose property includes active farmland: “Revenue from wind power represents a significant potential source of new revenue for farmers, especially small farmers, on the Eastern Shore. For many, this revenue can represent the difference from being able to maintain their farming lifestyle and the open space of their land, or potentially having to consider alternate development far less friendly to the environment.”

David Belote, retired Air Force Colonel and Former Executive Director of the Department of Defense Siting Clearinghouse, which oversees negotiations between military officials and renewable energy developers, said in written testimony in April 2014: “I see zero danger to the ADAMS mission or to Pax River. Simply put, if the turbines aren’t spinning, there’s no interference to ADAMS. … I’m confident that the Pax River mission is safe, and I’m equally confident that no base commander or Pentagon official would sign an agreement that would endanger a unique, critical capability like ADAMS.”

Mike Tidwell, director, Chesapeake Climate Action Network: “It is disappointing that Senator Mikulski would attempt to use this Washington process to delay Maryland’s determined efforts to expand clean energy. There is a clear potential for a billion-dollar wind industry on the Eastern Shore, and we want our political leaders to work to accelerate that process, not delay or block it. ”

The full text of the letter follows, and is available at:

Center for Biological Diversity ● Chesapeake Climate Action Network ● Chesapeake Physicians for Social Responsibility ● Clean Water Action ● Climate Reality Project ● Credo ● Earthworks Earth Day Network ● Energy Action Coalition ● Environment America ● Environment Maryland Food & Water Watch ● Friends of the Earth ● Green America ● Interfaith Power & Light (DC.MD.NoVA) ● League of Women Voters of Maryland ● Maryland Environmental Health Network ● Midshore Riverkeeper Conservancy ● Public Citizen Energy Program ● Unitarian Universalist Legislative Ministry of Maryland ● West/Rhode Riverkeeper. Inc

August 14, 2014

The Honorable Barbara Mikulski, U.S. Senate
503 Hart Senate Office Building
Washington, DC, 20510

Senator Mikulski,

We are writing to express our disappointment with the Senate Appropriations Committee report language that you recently added to H.R. 4870, the Department of Defense Appropriations Act of 2015. We ask that you move to strike that language from the bill as soon as possible.

The language in that bill unnecessarily harms a proposed Maryland wind energy project in Somerset County by directing the Department of the Navy to not execute a memorandum of understanding that would allow the project to move forward. This language would kill a specific wind farm even though serious good faith efforts are underway between the wind developer and the military to execute a “win-win” agreement to avoid impacts to the Patuxent River Naval Air Station (PAX River) radar. By doing so, this language sets Maryland back in its efforts to fight climate change, which is threatening the state with sea level rise, increased extreme weather events, prolonged droughts and numerous other threats to our economy, environment and residents. This language also threatens hundreds of millions of dollars of investment in Somerset County, as well as hundreds of new construction jobs and $44 million in new local tax revenues.

We believe that this language is unnecessary because federal and Maryland state law already provide sufficient opportunities for any specific, localized concerns of the Navy and PAX River to be addressed. In order to ensure that wind energy and other energy infrastructure growth can coexist with America’s national defense system, Congress passed the Ike Skelton National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2011. This law establishes a clearinghouse process where energy project developers and the Department of Defense (DOD) engage with each other with the stated purpose to “protect DOD mission capabilities from incompatible development” in order to “prevent, minimize, or mitigate adverse impacts on military operations, readiness, and testing.”

As an added layer of protection, Maryland law provides that any wind farm within 46 miles of PAX River must seek a Certificate of Public Convenience and Necessity in a proceeding before the Maryland Public Service Commission. This proceeding would look beyond national security implications to actual economic impacts within the state. PAX River, as a party to this proceeding, has the full capability under existing law to present any concerns regarding economic impact to the state. These laws provide ample protection for the critical missions at PAX River.

Maryland is a progressive state with a strong environmental record of leadership. Over the years, the State has championed efforts to promote clean energy, reduce greenhouse gas emissions, improve local air quality, and grow its green economy. Tragically, this appropriations language would be a huge step back in the progress that Maryland has achieved, and the negative impacts of the bill could reverberate across the country for years to come. This bill language sends a signal that wind energy investments are not welcome in Maryland and creates an uncertain business climate that we fear could have ripple effects elsewhere.

This language undermines the federal and state level processes already in place to protect PAX River, it harms Somerset County, it sets a dangerous national precedent, and it would weaken Maryland’s standing as a national leader on clean energy. We sincerely hope you move to strike this language so that Maryland and the rest of the country can move forward—confidently and responsibly—towards a clean energy economy.


Maryland Groups:

Mike Tidwell
Executive Director
Chesapeake Climate Action Network

Tim Whitehouse
Chesapeake Physicians for Social Responsibility

Andy Galli
MD Program Coordinator
Clean Water Action

Joanna Diamond
Environment Maryland

Joelle Novey
Interfaith Power & Light (DC.MD.NoVA)


National Groups:

Bill Snape
Senior Counsel
Center for Biological Diversity

Kenneth Berlin
President and CEO
The Climate Reality Project

Becky Bond
Political Director

Jennifer Krill
Executive Director

Kathleen Rogers
Earth Day Network



Susan Cochran
League of Women Voters of Maryland

Rebecca Ruggles
Maryland Environmental Health Network

Tim Junkin
Executive Director
Midshore Riverkeeper Conservancy

Reverend Lisa Ward, Steve Buckingham
Unitarian Universalist Legislative Ministry of Maryland

Jeff Holland
West/Rhode Riverkeeper. Inc


Maura Cowley
Energy Action Coalition

Anna Aurilio
DC Office Director
Environment America

Wenonah Hauter
Executive Director
Food & Water Watch

Ben Schreiber
Climate and Energy Program Director
Friends of the Earth

Fran Teplitz
Policy Director
Green America

Tyson Slocum
Public Citizen Energy Program



Peter Franchot – Wind Energy & the Estate Tax

Center Maryland

Video available at link

Center Maryland continues its conversation with Comptroller Peter Franchot, who discusses the positive economic and environmental impact of the Governor’s decision to veto the bill that would have disrupted wind energy projects on the Eastern Shore. Franchot also discusses the importance of the General Assembly’s decision to re-couple Maryland’s estate tax with the federal exemption.

Governor O’Malley Announces Decision to Protect Maryland’s Renewable Energy Progress

May 16th, 2014

ANNAPOLIS, MD – Governor O’Malley today announced that he vetoed HB 1168 – Electricity – Certificate – Wind Turbines – Limitation, in accordance with Article II, Sec. 17 of the Maryland constitution.

The Governor emphasized his commitment to Patuxent River Naval Air Station (Pax River) because of its critical importance to Maryland. “There are already safeguards in place to ensure that no renewable energy projects conflict with military facilities — those safeguards render this bill unnecessary,” Governor O’Malley said.

In addition, the Governor noted that the Great Bay Wind Project helps alleviates the threat

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to Pax River caused by rising sea levels. The recent release of the Third National Climate Assessment highlights the costs that climate change is already imposing on Maryland and underscores the importance of human action and innovation to address the issue. Sitting on the Eastern Seaboard, Maryland is particularly vulnerable, as is Pax River, to the effects of climate change.

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“Reducing greenhouse gas emissions by increasing our use of renewable energy will help tackle

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environmental challenges like carbon pollution and sea level rise,” Governor O’Malley said.

The Governor also pointed out that the Great Bay Wind Project advances three of the O’Malley-Brown

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Administration’s 16 strategic goals

: (1) creating jobs; (2) increasing Maryland’s in-State renewable generation to 20% by 2022; and (3) reducing Maryland’s greenhouse gas emissions by 25% by 2020.

Full text of the letter is attached: HB 1168 Wind turbines.pdf

Md.’s O’Malley vetoes bill delaying wind farm projects, saying he fears ‘chilling’ effect


Maryland Gov. Martin O’Malley (D) on Friday vetoed a bill that would have delayed — and likely derailed — a proposed wind farm in Somerset County, saying the legislation would send “a chilling message” to the clean-energy industry if it became law.

The governor’s decision was praised by environmentalists and some officials on the Eastern Shore as a way to bring much-needed jobs and green energy to a part of the state that is struggling economically.

But it ran counter to the wishes of U.S. House Minority Whip Steny H. Hoyer (D-Md.) and Southern Maryland lawmakers, who argue that a wind farm would compromise radar that tests the stealth capabilities of fighter jets at Patuxent River Naval Air Station, just across the Chesapeake Bay.

“I am deeply disappointed by Governor O’Malley’s veto,” Hoyer said in a statement late Friday afternoon. “This veto fails to demonstrate Maryland’s strong commitment and support for the mission of Patuxent River Naval Air Station.”

He noted that the bill passed the General Assembly “with a strong, veto-proof majority” and was also backed by U.S.

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Sens. Barbara A. Mikulski (D-Md.) and Benjamin L. Cardin (D-Md.).

Proponents of the wind farm project had urged O’Malley to overturn the legislation, arguing that it could scare away wind developers and taint the governor’s reputation

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as a dedicated environmentalist as he contemplates a White House bid.

O’Malley, who has used his veto power sparingly with a General Assembly dominated by fellow Democrats, said in a letter to legislative leaders that the project’s developers had “played by the rules” and that there are other safeguards against the risks cited by opponents of the project.

“The real threat to Pax River is not an array of wind turbines on the lower Eastern Shore, but rising sea levels caused by climate change,” O’Malley wrote. “If this moratorium were to take effect, it would send a chilling message to clean energy investors, developers, manufacturers, construction firms, engineers

and sustainable businesses that the state can change the rules in the eleventh hour.”

Texas-based Pioneer Green Energy has proposed building 25 whirling turbines in Somerset County, bringing hundreds of construction jobs and extra income for farmers. The developers thought they had reached a compromise with military leaders that would protect the radar capabilities at the Patuxent River base, simply by turning the turbines off during test flights.

But in the final days of Maryland’s annual legislative session, at the urging of Hoyer and lawmakers from Southern Maryland, the General Assembly voted to delay wind projects within 56 miles of the base until June 2015 — effectively killing plans for the Great Bay Wind Center.

The vote was 31 to 16 in the Senate and 112 to 22 in the House.

There are still numerous regulatory and procedural hurdles to clear before the wind farm can be built. But Pioneer Green Energy said in a statement that it is eager to move forward with the project.

Michael Brune, executive director of the Sierra Club, one of several environmental groups that praised O’Malley’s action, said the veto “will accelerate the development of East Coast wind farms that will bring new jobs to Maryland while helping to slow sea-level rise in the Chesapeake Bay.”

House Speaker Michael E. Busch (D-Anne Arundel) said he plans to survey his members to assess whether there is interest in returning to Annapolis for a special session to override the veto. An override requires a three-fifths vote in each chamber.

Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller Jr. (D-Calvert) said he understands that O’Malley made a judgment call.

“He’s the environmental guru of Democratic governors, and rightly so,” Miller

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said. “He staked out his claim to wind power a long time ago. . . . I personally think Pax River is too important to risk.”

Turning the turbines on and off would publicly signal the start of test flights, which has concerned some of the base’s customers, a group that includes branches of the military, contractors and foreign governments, said Sen. Thomas M. Middleton (D-Charles), who chairs the Senate Finance Committee. Those customers could then take their business elsewhere.

“We are fighting for the jobs we already have, not the ones we might have,” Middleton said.

Sen. James N. Mathias Jr. (D-Worcester), who represents Somerset County, countered that O’Malley’s decision could mean more jobs for his region if the project moves forward. Mathias said he was very pleased with O’Malley “for standing with us on the Eastern Shore.”

Over the course of eight annual legislative sessions, O’Malley has vetoed 13 pieces of

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legislation on their merits. By comparison, former governor Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. (R) vetoed 86 initiatives during his four years in Annapolis.

Among the bills previously vetoed by O’Malley were one that loosened restrictions on how law-enforcement agencies could dispose of handguns and another that altered the procedures for issuing court subpoenas.

Hoyer confronts ‘Greek tragedy’ during Annapolis homecoming

ANNAPOLIS, Md. — Before he was a big shot on Capitol Hill, House Minority Whip Steny Hoyer (D-Md.) was a big man in this town.


He spent a dozen years in the state Legislature, culminating as president of the state Senate. His portrait hangs in the lobby of one of the two Senate office buildings here.


Hoyer has returned often to the scene of his former triumphs — but yesterday was the first time since 1978 that he actually testified on legislation before a committee in Annapolis.


Hoyer appeared at a state Senate

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Finance Committee hearing to speak in favor of a bill that would delay a proposed wind turbine project on farmland on Maryland’s Eastern Shore, near the Chesapeake Bay. Hoyer led a parade of political and civic leaders expressing fears that the

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wind farm could impede critical radar testing across the bay at Patuxent River Naval Air Station — and thus jeopardize the entire existence of the naval base, the economic driver for southern Maryland.


The issue, Hoyer and others said, isn’t just Pax River — it’s the future of all military installations in Maryland, as the Pentagon inevitably looks to downsize further in the years ahead.


“This is not about the environment,” he said, emphasizing his longtime support for alternative energy.


But proponents of the wind farm said much the same — that turning against the project could cripple the state’s ability to attract businesses in the burgeoning field of renewable energy.


As the bill’s proponents and foes forcefully advanced their arguments, state Sen. Delores Kelley (D) summed up the dilemma, which has vexed Maryland politicians over the past few weeks and strained traditional alliances (E&E Daily, March 25).


“It sounds like an internecine struggle,” she said. “It almost sounds like a Greek tragedy, because there’s a lot of good on both sides.”


Priority for O’Malley


Pioneer Green, a Texas company, wants to erect 25 wind turbines, each about 600 feet tall, and possibly another 25 eventually, near a transmission line on the Eastern Shore. The Great Bay wind project would help the state achieve its mandate

to use 20 percent renewable energy by 2022 — and would be a nice accomplishment for Gov. Martin O’Malley (D), who is preparing to run for president in 2016.


But given the billions of dollars Pax River contributes to the state economy annually, southern Maryland civic and political leaders like Hoyer have hit the panic button, suggesting that the Navy will take its classified radar systems elsewhere if tests can’t continue unimpeded.


No one from the Navy has ever said this. And in fact, there is no formal Base Realignment and Closure (BRAC) process under way, because Congress is resistant to the idea. Navy officials attended yesterday’s hearing in Annapolis but did not testify, though one came forward to briefly answer lawmakers’ questions.


Instead, Hoyer supplied the committee with a written statement from an unnamed Navy official expressing reservations about the project.

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He also produced a letter that he co-signed with Maryland’s two U.S. senators, Barbara Mikulski (D) and Ben Cardin (D), urging delay — even though both traditionally do not take sides on legislation in the State House.


The state House of Delegates has already passed legislation to delay the wind farm, but with the legislative session scheduled to end Monday, Hoyer made the 32-mile trek from the U.S. Capitol to the Maryland State House to boost the measure and was clearly the star of the 2 ½ hour hearing — though the top spectacle of the day took place earlier, when two tractors with miniature turbines on them circled the State House, signifying Eastern Shore farmers’ support of the Great Bay project. But for all the veteran congressman’s oratorical prowess, it was easy to see how some lawmakers would be confused.


The delay is necessary, Hoyer and others said, because the Massachusetts Institute of Technology is completing a study at the Navy’s behest to determine ways to mitigate any interference the turbines might present to the Pax River’s operations. “I want to ensure that the location [of the wind farm] does not diminish Pax’s radar capabilities,” he said.


But the developers of the turbine project insist that any delay will kill it, given all the time and money they have invested obtaining permits and tax credits and developing infrastructure. While acknowledging that the project still requires myriad permits and other government approvals, they said an officially sanctioned delay from the state would rob them of “a rational process.”


Especially dismaying to the developers is the fact that they have reached an agreement in principle with military leaders to turn off the windmills anytime the Navy wants to test its radar systems at Pax River. But the fact that only one of the four Defense Department officials required to seal the deal

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has actually signed the agreement gives political leaders the opportunity to express their doubts.


“To be clear, as of today, there is no final signed curtailment agreement between the Navy and the Pioneer Green Great Bay developer,” Hoyer said, hitting the lectern with his index finger for emphasis in rhythm with each word.


Pamela Kasemeyer, a lobbyist for Pioneer Green, acknowledged as much and said the developers realize that the project cannot proceed without those required signatures. But she added that

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they’re willing to take their chances with the Navy and whatever concerns military officials raise — but not with an “arbitrary delay” imposed by the Legislature.


Asked by a senator whether a “curtailment agreement” would enable Pax River to test its radar without delay or fear of jeopardizing the nation’s national security, Gary Kessler, the naval base’s top civilian official, replied, “It’s not the Navy’s position to discuss operational security in an open forum.” He later acknowledged that the radar at Pax River isn’t in use anywhere else, though he would not say whether the military would ever entertain the notion of moving it elsewhere, as Hoyer and others suggested.


In a brief interview with E&E Daily after the hearing, Kessler would not say whether a signed agreement with Pioneer Green would quell the bill proponents’ warnings about the turbines interfering with military testing. “We’re still going through the process. … It’s hard to tell at this point,” he said.


Abigail Hopper, director of the Maryland Energy Administration and O’Malley’s top adviser on energy issues, said the bill is unnecessary because Pentagon officials would not sign any agreement with Pioneer Green until all their fears are allayed.


“I have a

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hard time believing that the United States Navy is going to be forced into an agreement that in any way jeopardizes the security of the nation,” she said.


That prompted state Sen. David Brinkley (R) to accuse the O’Malley administration of “playing a game of chicken with the Navy.”


O’Malley, through Hopper, has signaled his support for the wind farm project but has stopped well short of threatening to veto the measure if it gets through the Legislature. Because it is the last year of O’Malley’s and state lawmakers’ terms, he can veto the bill with little threat of it being overridden — unless legislators return to Annapolis later this year for a lame-duck special session, which is unlikely.


Even so, the wind farm proponents aren’t taking any

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chances. With the bill to delay the project all but certain to get out of the 11-member Senate Finance Committee, with the chairman and vice-chairman strong supporters, proponents are now hoping to attach an amendment to it on the Senate floor that would say the project can’t go forward if the Navy doesn’t sign the mitigation agreement.


“Finding a win-win solution for the state of Maryland has been our key objective,” said Adam Cohen, Pioneer Green’s vice president.

Josh Kurtz, E&E reporter

Debate on wind turbines in Somerset continues

WESTOVER — A packed room of Somerset County residents and U.S. Wildlife Service officials debated the possible implementation of Great Bay Wind Energy’s application for an eagle take permit at the J.M. Tawes

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The Wednesday evening public meeting intended to use public feedback to prepare an environmental assessment addressing potential impacts of the permit’s issuance for unavoidable “takes” by wind turbines. The permits allow wind farms and other operations to accidentally kill protected eagles.

If Pioneer Green is awarded a permit, it would require a five-year review process, which would mandate yearly monitoring. The Wildlife Service has the authority to deny the permit if it sees fit.

Andy Bowman, president of Pioneer Green Energy, who will develop the turbine project, said

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there may be negative impacts, but the ultimate goal is for cleaner energy.

“There will be some loss of life,” he said, in regards to birds that may be killed from

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the spinning turbines, but stressed Pioneer Green had looked at the environmental impacts when considering the project.

With seats full at the Tawes Center, some meeting attendees leaned against the wall and addressed their support or concern. One speaker said the company had “the most detailed analysis of our community” and

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others felt it would be a benefit to farmland, while another described the project as “erroneous” and worried that public information and studies should be clearer and easily accessible to the public.

David Curson, Audubon director of bird conservation, said his organization was still “very concerned,” about the project because of the area’s high eagle density.

“Audobon is very concerned about the eagle take permit. This is a high density area for the bald eagle, and we have concerns for other bird species who may fly through the area who are not protected,” he said.

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In order to assess possible eagle impacts, the wildlife service studies nests and point-count surveys of the eagles to estimate

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likely fatalities. So far only nine eagles have been killed from turbines nationally.

Wildlife Service representative Julie Slocum encouraged the audience to “put numbers

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into context” and observe the intent of Pioneer Green’s project.

“The project’s main purpose is for clean energy,” she said.

After all correspondence, the Fish and Wildlife service

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will study the environmental impact of the turbines and present these studies for public comment.


Written by
Nkongho Beteck
Special to the Delmarva Media Group

Wind Farms Do Their Part for Eagle Conservation Today, and Tomorrow

David Yarnold of the Audubon Society recently wrote on The Huffington Post and elsewhere about wind power and bald eagles. Only a handful of bald eagles have collided with commercial wind turbines in the history of the industry. Moreover, the Fish and Wildlife Service rule he opposes applies to many other industries and activities beyond wind.

If he truly believes his recent statement that “climate change is the single greatest threat to both birds and people,” Mr. Yarnold would not single out a technology that brings great net positive benefits for wildlife, and would work with regulators on practical solutions.

Photo credit: Juhl Energy

This long-awaited program will provide more eagle conservation than currently exists today, which leaves many in the wind industry and others who share our concern for saving eagles scratching our heads over his hyperbolic response.

As stated by the preamble to the rule and the Department of Justice, “Permits may be

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in all types of industries,” such as oil and gas development, electric utilities, or transportation, which take eagles in the course of otherwise lawful activities, but these industries can work with the Service to develop and implement additional, exceptionally comprehensive measures to reduce risk to eagles to the level where it is essentially unavoidable.

Extending the permits will allow permit-holders, including wind farm operators, to provide conservation benefits for eagles while granting them a degree of legal and financial certainty critical to any business.

And this program is expressly designed to protect eagle populations

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by providing much-needed conservation benefits in exchange for very limited “take” authorization, after all steps have been taken to first avoid and minimize risk to eagles, and then fully offsetting that risk so

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the net effect on eagles is neutral or positive.

This concept is not new. Congress authorized the permitting of the non-purposeful take of eagles that was incidental to otherwise lawful activities decades ago under the Bald and Golden Eagle Protection Act. The current permit program was initiated under President George W. Bush and the rule finalized in 2009. The most recent change to the rule, extending the permit duration, makes it more consistent with the Endangered Species Act’s permit program, widely considered to be the gold standard for wildlife protection, which already provides for life-of-activity authorization — in some instances lasting 40-60 years — for species that

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by their very definition are more imperiled than eagles. Those permits have allowed economic development while protecting wildlife.

With all of the above in mind, while eagles do unfortunately collide with turbines at some wind farms, it is not a common occurrence. Based on a review of all publicly available data, fatalities at modern wind facilities represent at most 2 percent of all documented sources of human-caused fatalities of golden eagles, and as noted, only a handful of bald eagles in over 30 years.

Yet the wind industry is committed to, and strives for, further reducing these impacts and does more to address risks to eagles than any of the other, far greater human sources of eagle fatalities that exist in the landscape today. For example, the Exxon Valdez oil spill immediately killed 247 bald eagles.

To obtain a permit, wind farm developers and operators need to engage in years of pre- and post-construction monitoring for wildlife impacts. They then make changes to the project design at the request of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, accept lost revenue from changes to facility layout and operations, and provide upfront mitigation for losses that may or may not occur (based on a highly conservative model that presently overestimates the risk). Through the permit mitigation permittees will help reduce the present impacts of other threats. And there are no guarantees that more will not be required of permit holders in the future, regardless of what is negotiated during the permit process. All this poses a business risk.

The administrative change allowing for permits of up to 30 years, with check-ins required at least every five years, will encourage these much-needed, long-term eagle conservation efforts, while allowing wind companies to increase the affordable and renewable energy they supply to American consumers. These permits will be difficult to qualify for and keep — the result of much hard work with Audubon and other wildlife conservation groups to make sure they will work to the eagles’ benefit — no matter what Mr. Yarnold likes to claim.

Wind energy already reduces U.S. carbon dioxide pollution by nearly 100 million tons a year, and it’s one of the most affordable and readily scalable ways to address climate change — the single greatest threat to eagles and wildlife, say leading wildlife experts.

While reasonable people can disagree over what to do first, the latest revisions

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to the permit program are a major step forward for eagle protection and should be allowed to proceed without unreasonable attacks.

Tom Kiernan

CEO, American Wind Energy Association

Md. wind farm seeks eagle permit

Phil Taylor, E&E reporter

Published: Tuesday, January 7, 2014

A wind farm on Maryland’s Eastern Shore has applied for a permit to kill or harm bald eagles, but has promised a suite of other steps to bolster the iconic bird.

The Fish and Wildlife Service said this month that it plans to prepare an environmental assessment for a proposed eagle “take” permit for the Great Bay Wind Energy Center in Somerset County.

The 25-turbine project by Austin, Texas-based Pioneer Green Energy LLC is one of roughly a dozen wind farms that have applied to FWS for eagle take permits of varying lengths.

Bald eagles are no longer protected under the Endangered Species Act, but bald or golden eagle take — which includes killing or disturbing the birds — is still prohibited under multiple federal laws.

While FWS last month finalized a rule extending the length of eagle permits to up to 30 years, Pioneer applied under a 2009 rule

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that limits permits to five years, the agency said.

Adam Cohen, a vice president at Pioneer, said a 30-year permit could help the project obtain financing, though he did not indicate whether the company plans to apply for a longer permit.

Cohen said it’s unclear how many birds are expected to be killed or harmed annually by the project, but he said bald eagle populations in the Chesapeake Bay region are robust and growing. Eagle take levels will be determined after FWS’s 30-day public scoping period, which includes a public meeting Jan. 15 in Westover, Md.

“We need to ensure that population is stable or expanding,” Cohen said.

While FWS initially predicted the project could kill up to 43 eagles per year, the project has been reduced in size from 60 turbines to 25 turbines and has been set back from prime eagle habitat such as the Atlantic flyway on the East Coast, the Blackwater National Wildlife Refuge and the Pocomoke River watershed, Cohen said.

“We’ve avoided and minimized impacts to the maximum extent we can,” he said.

A rough estimate based on 2012 nest data suggests there are about 30 nests within

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10 miles of the Great Bay project, FWS said.

The company has

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worked with FWS for three years to develop additional mitigation steps, including shutting down certain turbines during daylight hours when eagles are likely to fly by and ensuring that no turbines are sited within a mile of an eagle’s nest.

The company is also working with local poultry farmers on improved methods of composting chicken carcasses, which have attracted eagles to the site. It also plans to pursue hundreds of thousands of acres of conservation easements from landowners in the Pocomoke watershed to preserve key eagle habitat.

“We will be exploring other options for mitigation during the public scoping process and can incorporate new ideas into the eagle conservation plan,” FWS said.

Those steps could help the project avoid opposition from environmental groups that have scrutinized the new eagle take permits.

Fish and Wildlife has yet to issue an eagle permit to a wind farm, though other projects, including a transmission line across the Delaware Water Gap National Recreation Area along the Delaware-Pennsylvania border, have obtained five-year take permits.

Groups including the National Audubon Society and Natural Resources Defense Council strongly opposed FWS’s decision last month to allow 30-year eagle take permits, though groups are somewhat torn over the five-year permit rule.

Pioneer’s project is being built in part to satisfy a Maryland law requiring 20 percent of energy to come from renewable sources by 2022.

Cohen said it’s important to view wind power development in the context of climate change and the threat of rising sea levels that could destroy an unknown amount of eagle habitat in the Chesapeake Bay.

The Great Bay project comes amid a national debate over what level of bird deaths is an acceptable ecological tradeoff as wind farms are built to reduce the nation’s reliance on fossil fuels.

While FWS argues that eagle take permits will ultimately benefit the birds, critics argue there are few proven ways to compensate for eagle deaths.

More companies are expected to apply for the permits after the Justice Department last month announced the first-ever criminal enforcement of bird protection laws at a wind energy facility, fining a North Carolina-based energy giant $1 million for killing more than 150

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two Wyoming wind farms over the past few years (Greenwire, Nov. 25, 2013).



Philip A. Taylor

Interior Reporter

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