A Texas-based alternative-energy firm seeks expedited approval to build a 150-MW utility-scale solar-power project in southeastern Maryland after its plan to build a $200-million wind farm met with strong opposition from military officials and politicians who claimed turbine blades up to 500 ft high could interfere with operations at a nearby naval base. Local officials, who supported the project's economic and environmental benefits, now are battling with state politicians over a proposed permanent ban on wind projects in Maryland's eastern shore.

The original plan by Pioneer Green Energy, Austin, to build 25 wind turbines to generate the 150 MW "faced too many hurdles to justify continued investment," says Cyrus Tashakkori, project manager. Sen. Barbara Mikulski (D) suspended action on the project last summer, pending an MIT study, due out by September, of the turbines' impact on sensitive radar equipment at the Patuxent River Naval Air Station in St. Mary's County. Proponents say the project would produce up to $3 million in annual local tax revenue and help the state meet a 20% renewable-power goal by 2022.

Pioneer said in its application for the estimated $225-million Great Bay solar project that the state goal includes a 2% solar component, about 1,200 MW. "Maryland needs not only small, residential rooftop installations but [also] large utility-scale facilities," it said, adding that there was "about 158 MW of solar generation on the grid." The project would be built on the Delmarva peninsula, where higher state power prices and low interconnection costs ensure the project's financially viable, the firm said. Officials now seek pacts with transmission grid operator PJM Interconnection and local utility Delmarva Power & Light to build a substation and connection infrastructure next to the utility facilities. Pioneer is set to begin construction in March 2016 and have the project on line by December.