This aerial photo shows the Byron Overlook off the northbound lanes of Interstate 270 just south of Frederick, Md., on Feb. 29, 2008. The rest stop may become the site of a clean energy visitors' center that would be self-sustaining with water collection and solar/wind power. (AP Photo/The Frederick News-Post, Sam Yu)
FREDERICK, Md. (AP) -- Rep. Roscoe Bartlett loves talking about energy conservation, but there's one audience he hasn't been able to reach: thousands of tourists who drive through his western Maryland district to visit the nation's capital.
Now Maryland's General Assembly is considering a bill that could help revive the Republican congressman's longtime dream of combining the latest energy-saving technology with a highway rest stop along busy Interstate 270 near Frederick, about 45 miles northwest of Washington.
The bill, with bipartisan support and the backing of Democratic Gov. Martin O'Malley's administration, would create a state Clean Energy Center. The center would encourage the growth of businesses dedicated to renewable energy resources such as solar, wind, ethanol and biodiesel.
The bill doesn't specify a location for the center, but Bartlett and other proponents favor the Goodloe Byron Scenic Overlook, a 15-acre parcel owned by the State Highway Administration along I-270 just south of Frederick.
The site offers broad views of the Monocacy National Battlefield, where nearly 24,000 Union and Confederate forces clashed July 9, 1864, during the Confederacy's last campaign to carry the Civil War into the North.
The Byron overlook, named for a local congressman who died in 1978, was also the site of a proposed environmentally friendly welcome center that received about $1.3 million in federal highway funding in 2003 and 2004. The project, initiated by Bartlett, stalled because federal procurement rules wouldn't permit the sort of structure he envisioned - a self-sustaining showcase for cutting-edge technologies donated by businesses in exchange for prominent mention on signs or plaques.
Supporters say the Clean Energy Center could bypass federal contracting restrictions by turning the proposed welcome center into a demonstration site for the technologies it promotes and funds.
"Much of what they want to do in the Maryland Clean Energy Center is exactly what we wanted to do with our green welcoming center, and that is to showcase the technologies that people could use themselves," Bartlett said. He mentioned rainwater collection, composting toilets, constructed wetlands for filtering wastewater, solar panels, passive solar heating and wind turbines.
Those were among the features in designs submitted by architects in a competition Bartlett orchestrated in 2003 and 2004 to develop ideas for the welcome center. John W. Spears, president of the Gaithersburg-based Sustainable Design Group and nonprofit International Center for Sustainable Development, was a contest judge and has worked with Bartlett and the Maryland Energy Administration to create the Clean Energy Center.
"If it all comes together, we'll have one of the best examples in the country of an off-grid site demonstrating solar, wind, water conservation, rainwater collection, composting toilets and compressed-earth brick systems," Spears said. The bricks, made from local soil, would be used in the building construction, he said.
Spears said the participating companies might include BP Solar, a division of London-based BP PLC that makes solar power panels in Frederick. BP Solar spokeswoman Sarah Howell said the company hasn't decided whether to contribute.
The project is supported by a number of state environmental groups. The Maryland League of Conservation Voters considers the project "a great step in trying to bring more green businesses and clean energy jobs into Maryland," said Liz Nelson, legislative and political manager.
Spears said the 5,000-to-6,000-square-foot Clean Energy Center would have a residential look, so "people can come and see this building and relate to it as a home."
The center would have toilets, but its mission would be public education, said Charles B. Adams, director of environmental design for the State Highway Administration.
"It would be a learning experience for people," he said.
Jennifer Dougherty, the Democratic nominee for Bartlett's 6th District seat, said a demonstration site is fine, but that she would spend more time in Congress trying to create jobs in the renewable energy field, such as a biofuels refinery in western Maryland.
"Legislators not only have to educate, but do something about it," Dougherty said.