Commentary by Andy Bowman
For my company, developer of the Great Bay wind project in Somerset County, what a difference a year makes.
Last November we were wrapping up agreement with a technical team at Naval Air Station Patuxent River (PAX) resolving all concerns that had been raised with our wind project by the Department of Defense (DoD) and their consultant, MIT's Lincoln Labs. The agreement was the product of a year-long effort required by federal law to resolve potential adverse effects of wind projects on military installations. Rotating blades from our wind turbines - 36 miles across Chesapeake Bay - might interfere with a radar at PAX. The solution we reached was simple: Stop turbines whenever PAX uses the radar. No moving blades, no radar interference - problem solved.
By December the first Navy signature was in hand, and we executed the agreement. We exchanged congratulatory emails with the PAX team and began coordinating a joint press release. Then, abruptly, PAX went silent. No further signatures arrived, and DoD suddenly began to backtrack. "Agreement? What agreement?" our contacts said.
Only months later did we learn why. In an April hearing this year, U.S. Rep. Steny Hoyer explained that when he heard that PAX had reached agreement with us, he called the Navy and "put a hold" on it. Mr. Hoyer and former Del. John Bohanan, who also serves as Mr. Hoyer's senior advisor, then launched an assault on the project. First, they tried to enact a state law to block the project, which would have passed but for the leadership of Gov. Martin O'Malley, Comptroller Peter Franchot and others like newly elected Attorney General Brian Frosh, who saw the bill for what it really was. Next they enlisted Sen. Barbara Mikulski to introduce non-binding language in the Senate directing DoD not to sign the agreement.
Why is Mr. Hoyer so opposed to wind in the Eastern Shore? He says it's not about wind, which he claims to support, and it's also not about national security - he's on record saying the wind project doesn't present national security concerns. Rather, he says he is concerned about PAX sub-contractors who believe the wind project will somehow endanger PAX under base closure laws.
One might ask, if the wind turbines stop whenever PAX instructs, how could they interfere with PAX's mission? They can't, of course, a finding confirmed by Lincoln Labs. When confronted with this, Mr. Hoyer and Mr. Bohanan unveiled a new complaint - foreign powers could, by watching the wind turbines stop and start, know when PAX was testing. This is preposterous - not only do wind turbines start and stop all day as wind comes and goes, but PAX's own public information acknowledges it launches large weather balloons before each test. Surely the weather balloons would be of concern long before the turbines.
If there is no real security or operational concern, why is Mr. Hoyer so intent on killing the wind farm? Many signs point to politics. When this manufactured crisis began, Mr. Bohanan was gearing up for a tough re-election campaign in St. Mary's County, the part of Mr. Hoyer's district trending Republican. Throughout Mr. Bohanan's campaign, Mr. Hoyer lobbied DoD to formally object while Mr. Bohanan cast himself as PAX's savior by pushing the project's demise. Mr. Hoyer was successful and the timing of DOD's press release objecting to our project couldn't have been better for Mr. Bohanan - a couple of hours before the election edition deadline for the weekly newspaper covering his district. In a bitter irony, Mr. Bohanan lost reelection, meaning that at the end of the day Mr. Hoyer chose to prioritize politics over investment in Maryland but wound up with nothing to show for it.
There is nothing new about DoD and politics in Southern Maryland, but Mr. Hoyer's actions are concerning because they go against the federal law he himself co-sponsored in 2011 to de-politicize resolution of DoD-wind project impacts. This law sets up a purely technical resolution process as the exclusive means for resolving these matters - in other words, politicians may not "put a hold" on an agreement at will. Mr. Hoyer must know that by meddling he has potentially exposed the government to lawsuits for many millions in taxpayer dollars.
If the Great Bay wind project is killed, it will be a terrible loss for Maryland. Governor O'Malley's visionary plan for Maryland to lead in clean energy jobs and investment will be set back. Somerset County, Maryland's poorest, will be deprived of a $200 million investment, 500 construction jobs and $44 million in new tax revenues. Over 200 landowners would lose untold millions in royalty payments.
Mr. Hoyer created this fake crisis by meddling in a process that he himself passed a law to protect from politics. It is time he stopped playing politics and started supporting the agreement we reached with PAX last February.
Andy Bowman is president of Pioneer Green Energy, developer of the proposed Great Bay Wind Energy Center in Somerset County. His email is andy.bowman [at] pioneergreen.com.