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Bill causes blowback for wind turbines

A new bill introduced Tuesday by U.S. Rep. Chris Collins aims at blocking Apex Clean Energy’s proposed project to build up to 70 wind turbines in Somerset and Yates.

Collins’ new legislation, titled “Protection of Military Airfields from Wind Turbine Encroachment Act,” would make any new wind turbine located within a 40-mile radius of a military installation ineligible to receive renewable energy tax credits.

Apex’s proposed “Lighthouse Wind” project would be affected by the bill, as Somerset is about 33 miles away from the Niagara Falls Air Reserve Base in Niagara Falls. Yates is about 40 miles from the base.

The bill was introduced with concerns for the fate of the Niagara Falls Air Reserve Station in mind. Sen. John Cornyn, R-Texas, introduced a similar bill in the Senate.

“Massive wind turbines built in such close proximity to military installations can negatively impact a base’s potential new missions and its future operations,” Collins, R-Clarence, said, adding that he can’t condone “any activity which puts the Niagara Falls Air Reserve Station’s future operations and viability at risk.”

Somerset town Supervisor Dan Engert said Wednesday he met with Collins on Monday, and was pleased that the congressman introduced the bill.

The concerns of Engert, Collins, and other residents and officials aren’t that Apex’s Lighthouse Wind project would disturb day-to-day operations of the base, but that the project could impact NFARS’ viability in future years when the federal government undergoes Base Realignment and Closure processes, Engert said.

“We don’t want anything around a base that can put us at risk of being closed,” Engert said, adding that wind turbines can impact long- and short-range missile defense systems.

NFARS has been placed on the recommended base closure list before, and was saved through efforts of local officials, Engert added.

Apex Clean Energy said Tuesday it has been working with the Department of Defense and the air base regularly to ensure that any concerns regarding the base’s operation can be resolved before the turbines are built.

Apex also received a letter directly from the Department of Defense Siting Clearinghouse stating that the project is “unlikely to impact military testing or operations in the area.”

“Apex Clean Energy takes the safety and readiness of our military very seriously, and we work closely with the Department of Defense to make sure that our energy facilities do not adversely impact military missions,” the company said in a statement.

Lighthouse Wind is currently in the pre-application phase of review from the Defense Department and the Federal Aviation Administration, which any proposed structure over 200 feet in height throughout the county is required to undertake.

“Lighthouse Wind has not proposed specific turbine models or heights as of yet,” the statement read. “When this final proposal is made, the DoD and FAA will have the chance to weigh in with their approvals through these review systems.”

The town of Somerset has put forth proposed changes to its town comprehensive plan, some of which make reference to wind turbines. The town board held a public hearing on the proposed changes Wednesday evening, and another public hearing will also be scheduled, Engert said.

The plan needs to be approved by the Niagara County Planning Board, who are currently scheduled to look at the plan at their Dec. 19 meeting.

Typically, towns update their comprehensive plans every five years or so or whenever there are major changes in the community, Engert said.

“Obviously, we have a new development in the town with the interest in building a wind turbines project here,” Engert said. “We’re making sure that the comprehensive plan lines up with the community.”