By JAMES B. HALE
BALTIMORE (Oct. 15, 2009) - Garrett County residents told the Maryland Public Service Commission Wednesday that a proposed wind farm would be noisy, ineffective and potentially put them in danger.
Representatives for Synergics Wind Energy, the developers of the proposed 24-turbine wind farm in Garrett County, said the project would provide clean energy and be completely safe. The commission is expected to rule on the project in the near future.
Residents who own land next to the site on Backbone Mountain voiced several concerns, but were primarily worried about safety.
Victor Fickes recently finished construction on a house located 1,300 feet from one of the proposed turbines, making his the closest residence to the project. He said he's worried that if a turbine falls over or tosses spinning debris in the air, neighbors could be in danger.
"You got over 100 tons of stuff there. [If the turbine] gets spinning too fast, the rotor can hit the tower and that's when pieces of carbon fiber of a blade can go flying," said Fickes.
Deborah E. Jennings, a lawyer for Synergics, told the commission the safety concerns are unfounded. She said homes are far enough away that residents would be safe in the unlikely event of a turbine collapse or malfunction.
Frank Maisano, who represents a coalition of Mid-Atlantic wind-power developers including Synergics, agreed. He said the concern is just paranoia.
"These are tragic accidents that are very rare and virtually never occur," said Maisano.
He said the area is a prime place for wind energy, and if turbines can't be built there, Maryland might not see wind energy anywhere.
On top of resident concerns, the project also faces state laws that would normally prohibit building the turbines. The commission is looking into whether or not to grant an exception to the law to Synergic.
It's another potential setback to the project that has been in the works since the beginning of the decade, when Maryland leaders called for cleaner energy options statewide. But opposition from residents and environmental and animal protection groups has stalled progress.
They have cited a host of problems with the turbines.
Animal activists have said bats and birds can be sucked into the blades and die. Some environmental groups have argued that the cost to the environment of building the turbines is greater than the energy saved with wind power.
Some people just don't want their view blocked.
After debate within Garrett County, the board of county commissioners there voted last month to support Synergic's plan. With that approval, everyone is now on board except some Backbone Mountain residents and the Public Service Commission.
Jennings said removing the turbines that are too close to homes from the plan would make the whole project unprofitable and not worth building. But according to Fickes, that isn't the residents' problem.
He said it's not fair to make them fight against the project. "They made a bad business decision on where they wanted to put it," Fickes said. "It shouldn't be left to us to have to defend ourselves."
Capital News Service contributed to this report.