The Lighthouse Wind Farm project that is proposed by Apex Clean Energy for parts of Niagara and Orleans counties could be facing a major new obstacle.
Fearing the giant wind turbines could discourage the Department of Defense from assigning future missions to the Niagara Falls Air Reserve Station (NFARS), Congressman Chris Collins (R, NY-27) has introduced legislation that would eliminate renewable energy tax credits for wind turbines built within a 40 mile radius of military facilities.
"Let's not limit what we might see in the future (for NFARS) because all of a sudden we have a few dozen massive turbines twenty miles away that could be impacting radar and things of that sort," said the congressman.
Apex Clean Energy, from Virginia, is hoping to begin construction on the wind farm in 2019. It could include 70 wind turbines in the towns of Somerset and Yates. Some of the turbines could be much bigger than ones currently in use in Wyoming County and the Niagara/Orleans wind turbines could be as high as 600 feet.
When completed, the wind farm is expected to generate enough electricity to power 53,000 NY homes. The company said the project would also provide millions of dollars for the counties over the projected 30-year lifespan of the wind farm. Apex is hoping to enter into a Payment in Lieu Taxes (PILOT) agreement with local tax jurisdictions and host community where payments of $1.6 million/year would be made annually.
However, many in the project area oppose the wind farm because they feel it could ruin their community and possible hurt the 2,600 jobs at the Niagara Falls Air Base.
Somerset Supervisor Daniel Engert said his town is fighting the project because a survey of residents found 70% are against the wind farm. However, Engert said Article 10 of New York State Public Service Law gives final approval to the state and takes it away from local officials.
"That frankly is inconceivable to me that a local community would have literally very little say over essentially local zoning," said the frustrated Somerset supervisor.
Somerset and other upset municipalities are looking to retain the legal services of former NYS District Attorney General Dennis Vacco to explore the possibility of filing a lawsuit to have home rule returned to local communities.
7 Eyewitness News Reporter Ed Reilly has more in his reports.
The following is a response from Apex Clean Energy:
“Apex Clean Energy takes the safety and readiness of our military very seriously, and we work closely with the Department of Defense and its services to ensure our wind energy facilities do not adversely impact military missions. Related to Lighthouse Wind, we have been consulting with the Department of Defense and Niagara Falls Air Force Reserve Station regularly to ensure that any concerns regarding the base’s operations are resolved before the project is built. Lighthouse Wind has received a letter directly from the DoD Siting Clearinghouse stating the project is “unlikely to impact military testing or training operations in the area.” More recently, a top official at the Niagara Falls Air Reserve Station (NFARS), confirmed that the base’s new KC-135 mission makes the wind turbines a nonissue for the base. According to the military’s own experts, Niagara County residents can be confident that Lighthouse Wind will pose no current or projected mission impact on Niagara Falls Air Reserve Station, which is more than 25 miles from the Lighthouse Wind project area.
While Apex is expert in the development of wind energy projects, we believe it is appropriate to trust the expertise of the DoD Siting Clearinghouse, as well as that of local military experts and advisors, to assess the potential risk of wind energy projects to their own bases. We believe our professional national security experts are doing their duty and acting in the best interest of our nation, the communities in which they operate, and our armed forces.
Any structure over 200’ proposed throughout the country is required to undertake a rigorous system of review by the DoD and FAA required prior to construction. Lighthouse Wind is in the pre-application phase, and as such has not proposed specific turbine models or heights as of yet. When this final proposal is made, the DoD and FAA will have the chance to weigh in again with their approvals through these review systems.”
The following is information on Congressman Chris Collins proposed legislation:
WASHINGTON, D.C. – Congressman Chris Collins (NY-27) today introduced legislation that would curb the installation of wind turbines in close proximity to military installations, such as the Niagara Falls Air Reserve Station (NFARS) in Niagara Falls, New York.
Recently, Apex Clean Energy has proposed a plan to build 70 propeller turbines amid farms and towns throughout Niagara County. The impact that this plan may have on the Niagara Falls Air Reserve Station has raised significant concerns from local residents and lawmakers.
“I cannot condone any activity which puts the Niagara Falls Air Reserve Station’s (NFARS) future operations and viability at risk,” said Congressman Collins. “This air base employs over 2,600 people and contributes over $200 million a year to Western New York’s economy. Massive wind turbines built in such close proximity to military installations, such as the ones being proposed in Western New York, can negatively impact a base’s potential new missions and its future operations. I will do everything in my power to ensure the viability of the Niagara Falls Air Reserve Station.”
Congressman Collins introduced the “Protection of Military Airfields from Wind Turbine Encroachment Act” in an effort to ensure that any new wind turbines located within a 40-mile radius of a military installation will be deemed ineligible for renewable energy tax credits. Full text of the legislation can be read here. A companion bill was introduced in the United States Senate by Senator John Cornyn, R-TX.
“Our military installations are crucial to the security of our nation,” continued Congressman Collins. “This legislation ensures that military installations like the Niagara Falls Air Reserve Station can fully operate without potential interference from wind turbines, some of which can be as tall as 600 feet.”
“The Department of Defense has been increasingly engaged to express either reservations or objections to potential wind projects across the country, on the basis of military readiness issues and conflicts with military radar systems,” said Dan Engert, Somerset Town Supervisor. “The Lighthouse Wind project in Somerset is very poorly sited for a number of reasons, and I do not think it's in our government's best interest to expand wind energy at the expense of military readiness. I am very grateful that Congressman Collins and Senator Cornyn recognize this impact and have introduced legislation in both chambers that will force corporate wind developers to site projects far and away from military installations, like the Niagara Falls Air Reserve Station.”
“I fully support Congressman Collins' proposed legislation to protect military installations from encroachment from industrial wind turbine projects,” said James Simon, Yates Town Supervisor. “The Niagara Falls Air Reserve Station has a positive economic impact on the Town of Yates. We are fortunate that the skies above the Town of Yates not only have unrestricted airspace for low flying military aircraft and drones, but also provide unimpeded radar coverage for national defense.”
“We are grateful to Congressman Collins for taking the initiative to propose legislation that will work to protect the future of our air base and the thousands of families and workers who rely on its continued operation,” said Pamela Atwater, President of Save Ontario Shores. “Save Ontario Shores pledges its full support to this proposed legislation and we look forward to its enactment.” Save Ontario Shores is a local group that was formed to address the concerns relating to the health, safety and welfare of Town of Yates and Town of Somerset taxpayers and residents, in regards to the Lighthouse Wind project being proposed by Apex Clean Energy.”
Congressman Collins has previously taken steps to address this issue. In December 2015, Congressman Collins authored a letter to the Department of Defense and Federal Aviation Administration officials expressing concern about a proposed wind turbine project along the Lake Ontario Shoreline.