CUMBERLAND - Maryland's Public Service Commission has granted a permit for the construction of a proposed 70 MW wind farm near Frostburg.
Proposed wind energy projects in Maryland that are larger than 70 MW are required to have a Certificate of Public Convenience and Necessity (CPCN) while projects 70 MW or smaller are allowed to seek an exemption to the CPCN process. Wednesday’s decision granted that exemption.
The project, in development since 2001, initially sought zoning approval from the Allegany County Board of Zoning Appeals in 2008 for the construction of a 29-turbine wind farm located entirely on private property on Dan's Mountain. The county modified its zoning regulations as they relate to wind farms in 2009, sidelining the project until 2015 when Dan's Mountain sought approval for a 17-turbine project that complied with Allegany County's 2009 setback requirements.
A utility-scale wind farm is a "permitted use" by special exception, subject to meeting certain criteria and a hearing before the Board of Zoning Appeals. The project received zoning approval in late 2019.
According to a spokesperson for the project, it has long enjoyed the support of the full-time residents who live nearest to the site and were co-applicants in the zoning case, the Western Maryland Building Trades whose members will benefit from the hundreds of jobs created during the construction of the project, the Allegany County Chamber of Commerce, and the Greater Cumberland Committee.
It is expected to bring more than $1 million per year in new tax revenues to Allegany County, which will make it the county's third-largest taxpayer. “This is especially significant given the recent closure of the local Luke Paper Mill and COVID-19 shutdowns,” the spokesperson said.
Importantly, the project has been the subject of a tremendous amount of environmental review and study. It was designed to avoid critical habitat for endangered wildlife and plants and has the support of Maryland's Department of Natural Resources, and the US Fish and Wildlife Service.
According to the developer, Laurel Renewable Partners, Allegany County would have received more than $10 million in property taxes so far if it had been constructed in 2009 as originally planned.
"In many ways, this project is a perfect example of a win-win. Not only will it bring new tax revenue, good construction jobs, and a handful of operations and maintenance jobs, but it will also continue to stimulate the local economy and harness Western Maryland's inexhaustible wind resource for clean energy production. It also supports Maryland's renewable energy goals,” said David Friend, the developer's managing partner. Maryland currently imports 40% of the electricity consumed in the state.
During the construction phase, Dan's Mountain is expected to create 205 jobs statewide, representing approximately $12.9 million in labor income payroll and $30.4 million in regional economic output. Additional local jobs will be created to staff the plant, which will be supplemented with contractor services provided by area businesses.
According to the American Wind Energy Association, there are currently 191 megawatts of wind capacity in Maryland. Dan's Mountain would be the state's fifth and Allegany County's first.