Albany, as is often the case, is unpredictable, especially during budget time and near the end of the legislative session. Proverbial curveballs are thrown constantly as important legislation – and let’s admit it, some not-so-important legislation – is passed, laid aside, or dies in committee. It’s quite the task engaging in last minute back-and-forth compromises and tracking countless amendments – not only on my legislation, but on the legislation of my 62 Senate colleagues.
With legislative session drawn to a close, I was disappointed that one of my priority bills will not become law this year. This legislation would ban wind turbines within 40 miles of airfields and military air bases, such as the Niagara Falls Air Reserve Station.
The wind farm lacks the support of residents and is unanimously opposed by local officials. Unfortunately, state energy policy is often dictated by what will sound flashy in a press release as opposed to what’s realistic for the state. Political, not policy, determinations have mandated that New York must reach an arbitrary level of “renewable” energy production (50 percent) by an arbitrary date (2030). Now, energy generation and transmission projects go through what’s known as the Article X process. By design, the Article X process eliminates local input and places major decisions squarely in the hands of Albany officials. I’ve fought this anti-democratic state process and I’m fighting this battle on another front.
My bill, co-sponsored by Assemblyman Mike Norris and modeled after federal legislation sponsored by Congressman Chris Collins, addresses immediate concerns related to the base’s missions as well potential future Base Realignment and Closure (BRAC) considerations. Apex Clean Energy’s proposed Lighthouse Wind Project in the towns of Yates and Somerset would construct approximately 70 wind turbines more than 600 feet high. Located roughly 30 miles from the Town of Somerset, the air base and its proximity to the proposed turbines creates a dramatic threat to our community.
The Niagara Falls Air Reserve Station is too much of an asset to Niagara County and our entire region to put its future at jeopardy with this proposed project. Both units at the air base have now moved to new missions focusing on unmanned aerial vehicles and air refueling. Radar signature is a key element of these units’ training and missions and we cannot risk hindering their operations and security.
Massive wind turbines built in close proximity to the Niagara Falls Air Reserve Station and other military installations across the state could negatively impact their sustainability, put airmen and civilian employees out of work, and potentially put them at risk for closure. Encroachment is a primary consideration in BRAC decisions. Large developments approaching the air base could become a negative determining factor the next time base closures or consolidations are discussed.
The Niagara Falls air base is the largest employer in Niagara County with more than 3,000 military and civilian employees. It creates an economic impact of more than $143 million to the region every year. On its own merits, I’m deeply skeptical of Apex’s proposed industrial-scale wind farm because they are heavily subsidized by taxpayers yet their project will not create jobs or help our economy. But when weighed against the base’s future, it is simply not worth the risk of losing the economic engine and national security asset that is NFARS.
Robert G. Ortt is the state senator for the 62nd District.
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