The bill, H.B.1168, passed both the state House and Senate with strong support, and the legislation would have prohibited wind development within a 56-mile radius from the naval base until July 1, 2015. Legislators advanced the moratorium on wind turbines to allow more time to study potential adverse impacts on the naval station's radar systems, but it would have derailed plans for the Great Bay Wind project. The 70 MW wind farm, proposed by Texas-based Pioneer Green Energy, is slated to be built in Somerset County.
In a letter explaining his decision, O'Malley called the bill unnecessary, noting that Pioneer Green Energy had already reached a curtailment agreement with Pax River officials to shut down wind turbines during radar testing.
Furthermore, O'Malley said that the bill would "effectively kill a $200 million investment in the county, along with much-needed jobs and local tax revenue," as well as deter other potential clean energy investors.
"The developers of the Great Bay Wind project have engaged in years of painstaking negotiations, played by the rules and invested millions of dollars in good faith reliance on the policies established by our federal and state legislative bodies," he wrote in his letter. "If this moratorium were to take effect, it would send a chilling message to clean energy investors, developers, manufacturers, construction firms, engineers and sustainable businesses that the state can change the rules in the eleventh hour."
O'Malley also said in a press statement that the Great Bay Wind project helps advance Maryland's 20% by 2020 renewable portfolio standard and goal to reduce state greenhouse gas emissions by 25% by 2020.
Unsurprisingly, renewable energy advocates have praised O'Malley's decision.
Mike Tidwell, director of the Chesapeake Climate Action Network, said in a statement, "Today will be remembered as a pivotal turning point in Maryland's march toward a clean energy economy." And Josh Tulkin, director of the Maryland chapter of the Sierra Club, called the veto "a brave and bold step."
Frank Maisano, an energy specialist at Bracewell & Giuliani, said O'Malley has proven that Maryland is still open for clean energy business.
"I think it's important, certainly, that the governor took the position he did," said Maisano. "It sends a strong signal that the state is going to continue to follow through on its approach, rather than saying, "Yes, we're open for wind,' but then putting moratoriums on people. It's a strong sign of support for the clean energy economy and for guys who are playing by the rules."
According to data from the American Wind Energy Association, Maryland currently has only 120 MW of installed wind capacity, but that doesn't mean the state isn't serious about wind power.
"The reality is that, while they have a great attitude and they're The Little Engine That Could, they are a little engine," explained Maisano. "They don't have as many opportunities as North Dakota, Illinois, Texas or even Pennsylvania when it comes to wind, just because of the size of the state and the availability of wind resources.
"That being said, they've done outstanding work with the limited resources that they have," he continued. "The state has an aggressive approach to dealing with renewables."
In fact, O'Malley has long been a wind power advocate. For example, he introduced the Maryland Offshore Wind Energy Act three years in a row before it finally passed in 2013.
However, because H.B.1168 had lots of support, some officials are unhappy with O'Malley's veto.
In a statement, U.S. House Minority Whip Steny Hoyer, D-Md., said he was "deeply disappointed by Governor O'Malley's veto of this legislation, which passed the Maryland General Assembly with a strong, veto-proof majority."
"Pax River is a world-class installation that supports over 20,000 well-paying jobs and contributes $7.5 billion annually to our state's economy, and I intend to continue to work to protect Pax River and strengthen our national security," he said. "Together, we can work to alleviate the threat of climate change without undermining an important national security asset."
He also charged, "The Department of the Navy recently stated, "wind turbines within the line of site of the Advanced Dynamic Aircraft Measurement System will have an adverse effect on critical flight tests,' and the proposed agreement between Pioneer Green and the Navy is "still under review and has not been approved by the Navy.'"
Maryland legislators have an opportunity to override the veto; however, it would require a three-fifths vote from both chambers, and lawmakers would have to agree to return for a special session. Currently, there is no indication of whether the legislators plan to pursue the option.
Therefore, thanks to O'Malley's stance, the Great Bay Wind project no longer appears to be in immediate danger. At press time, Pioneer Green Energy did not respond to requests for comment. Nonetheless, the Washington Post reports that, although the project has a range of permitting and other milestones to reach before becoming a reality, Pioneer said it is excited to move ahead with its wind farm.