Regulators Grant Fast-Track Status to Md. Wind Farm Job

Thu November 06, 2008 - Northeast Edition
David Dishneau - Associated Press

HAGERSTOWN, Md. (AP) Maryland regulators have, for the first time, granted fast-track status to a wind-power project in the state’s mountainous western panhandle.

The 5-0 vote Oct. 29 by the Public Service Commission exempts California-based Clipper Windpower Inc. and its Criterion Power Partners subsidiary from having to obtain a Certificate of Public Convenience and Necessity for its 40-turbine project in Garrett County, as power plant developers must do.

Clipper and planners of other proposed wind projects contend the certification requirement has hamstrung wind energy development in western Maryland because opponents acting as interveners have used it to challenge and delay projects. Meanwhile, wind farms have sprung up in neighboring Pennsylvania and West Virginia.

Critics say the 2007 fast-track law enables developers to skirt environmental reviews and avoid public scrutiny.

Clipper, of Carpinteria, Calif., first proposed a wind farm atop Backbone Mountain in Garrett County in 2002 and received certification in 2003. Challenges and lawsuits followed.

Kevin Rackstraw, the project’s leader, said the company hopes to begin erecting turbines next year, but that financing hasn’t been arranged.

The certification process “allowed opponents to get their hooks into it and get involved in litigation, so this is a much simpler, much more straightforward process that we don’t believe is going to be subject to these same sort of delaying tactics,’’ Rackstraw said.

The exemption includes provisions for annual reports to the PSC on the project’s status, including any regulatory actions taken by federal, state or local authorities.

The PSC also advised the company that the exemption doesn’t limit the authority of any state or local government agency. The developer must obtain all required construction and operating permits, including a storm water and sediment control permit from Garrett County, the PSC said.