By John Curran
Elm Staff Writer
News and discussion regarding the construction of 49 wind turbines in Kent County has reached an all-time high. From local business owners and farmers to Interim-President Jay Griswold, the issue is one that has caught the attention of countless county residents.
With many of its building’s powered geothermally, WC is an example of an institution that embraces the use of clean energy. However, the recent fervor surrounding Apex Clean Energy’s wind turbine project demonstrates that perhaps not all clean energy is created equal.
Operating out of Charlottesville, Va., bold text on Apex Clean Energy’s home page reads “accelerating transition to a world powered by clean electricity.” Founded in 2009, the company caters to communities, businesses and landowners alike through the construction of clean energy wind turbine farms. The company has been involved in wind farm construction all over the country in Arizona, Texas, Illinois, and New York.
The response from residents to the project has been highly negative. A unanimous rejection of the project during a Kent County Commissioners meeting on March 24 has signaled the start of a battle between the county and Apex Clean Energy for authority over the situation. Much of the consternation has come from the county’s lack of control and oversight of the project. Despite a unanimous decision by the county to reject the project and as petitions from local residents, the project can still proceed. This is because the final say on the project falls under the jurisdiction of Maryland’s Public Service Commission who have received a building application from Apex Clean Energy.
The ability of Apex to directly approach the Public Service Commission is seen by many as a circumvention of the law and a loophole that needs fixing. In response to the decision made by the Commissioners, Maryland State Senator Stephan Hershey has drafted a senate bill meant to combat the tactics employed by Apex. The bill will advocate for the inclusion of the local community in deciding whether or not the project will proceed, and transfer final control of the project from the the Public Service Commission to the county.
According to Apex, if constructed, the turbines would be capable of producing up to 100 milliwatts of electricity, which in turn is enough to power 30,000 homes per year. The project would also see up to 100 full-time jobs created during the construction period and as many as eight permanent operation and maintenance jobs thereafter. Farming impact is expected to be minor with the 500 foot turbines mostly taking up vertical space. Integration with local electrical systems would eliminate the need for any major new infrastructure.
However, many in the local community, including, Interim Griswold, see the approach taken by Apex Clean Energy as devious. “At Washington College we value ‘unhurried conversations’ where all sides of an issue can be explored and discussed before a decision is made,” He wrote in an email sent out to the entire college on March 31.
The email focused on three reasons to reject the project, including Apex’s questionable tactics, the potential adverse impact that wind turbines could have on the scenic qualities of Kent County, and the potential threat the turbines could pose to migrating waterfowl. Additionally, a link to an online petition was provided in the email which had yet to meet its goal of 200 signatures at press time. Griswold also suggested members of the WC community spend April 7 in Annapolis where the Senate Finance Committee held an open-to-the-public hearing for SB 938 at 1 p.m.
Beyond WC, one of the many forms of protest in that has been in the form of the website, www.keepkentscenic.org. The website includes the header “Keep Kent Scenic,” accompanied by a picture of wind turbines set up amidst farm land and the caption, “Don’t let this happen.” The website is further comprised of a series of pages outlining the negative impacts of the turbine construction, such as lowered property values or the potential for eminent domain abuses, accompanied by a plea to residents to protest the project.
This is very much at odds with the Apex website dedicated to the Kent County Project, or “Mills Branch Wind,” as they have named it. “In the long-term, the project promises to bring sustained tax revenue to the county for the local government and schools, as well as 25 years of local purchasing, employment, and investment,” the website states beneath the heading, “Why Kent County.”
What started as a project to bring clean energy to the county has now transformed into a debate between Apex Clean Energy, the Kent County community, and the local legislature.
For more information on the issue www.millsbranchwind.com outlines Apex Clean Energy’s plans, while www.keepkentscenic.org looks at the matter from a different viewpoint. Finally, for those interested in signing the petition to support senate bill 938, that can also be found online at www.ipetitions.com.