Navy objects to Maryland offshore wind project

Friday, November 7, 2014

An offshore wind energy project proposed off the Maryland coast has drawn opposition from the U.S. Department of Defense over fears that the project would disrupt the nearby Patuxent River Naval Air Station's radar facilities.

The Great Bay Wind Energy Center is a proposed wind farm project off Somerset County in Maryland's portion of the Delmarva Peninsula.  The $200 million project could produce up to 150 megawatts of power, and is currently under development by Pioneer Green Energy, LLC.

Naval Air Station Patuxent River is a U.S. naval air station located on the Chesapeake Bay near the mouth of the Patuxent River.  It operates and tests a variety of radar systems considered by the Navy to be critical to national security.  At several points through the Great Bay wind project's development process, Navy officials have said that their radar systems could be affected by signals bouncing back from the offshore turbines, compromising the Navy facility's mission and effectiveness.  The developer had offered mitigation measures, such as disabling the turbines during Navy testing.

In the latest development, Congressman Steny Hoyer has released a Department of Defense letter objecting to the proposed Great Bay Wind project.  Part of a Federal Aviation Administration process to evaluate whether it can find the project poses “no hazard", the letter to the Department of Transportation lodges the Defense Department's formal objection to the "Great Bay Energy Center project" under regulations codified as 32 C.F.R. 211.  It states that "the proposed project, even if mitigated as offered by the applicant, would constitute an unacceptable risk to the national security of the United States... because it would significantly impair or degrade the capability of the Department of Defense to conduct research, development, testing and evaluation of the Department's advanced airborne weapons systems and would ultimately place our nation's armed forces at greater risk when they go in harm's way."

Congressman Hoyer said in his accompanying statement that although he supports renewable energy, he agreed that the threats this project poses to the Pax River naval facility -- a critical national security asset -- and the 22,000 jobs it supports were too great to allow the project to proceed.

What the letter means for the project remains to be seen.  Clearly, national security is of crucial importance.  Is this the Department of Defense's final answer?  Can the developer find another way to resolve this impasse?  Will another branch of government sweep in to broker a compromise?  Or will the Department of Defense's concerns effectively end the Great Bay offshore wind project?

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