Last year New York State set an ambitious energy goal: to generate 50% of its electricity from renewable sources by 2030. That means building more generation capacity, and right now there are eight proposed wind projects from northern St. Lawrence to northern Oswego counties. But Army officials and community leaders say building more wind turbines in Fort Drum’s airspace will make its aircraft and weather radar systems unreliable – which could impact training and readiness.
When wind turbines appear on aircraft radar, “it shows up like little flickering lights in a band where those wind turbines are located,” explains Brian Ashley, executive director of the Fort Drum Regional Liaison Organization.
Ashley says that’s no real technical solution to this. Instead, pilots and air traffic controllers just electronically cover up the spot where the flicker is. Ashley says the blacked-out spots from two existing wind developments near Fort Drum are already interfering with training and weather detection systems. And if the proposed projects are built in Fort Drum’s airspace – which covers from just south of Canton to the Tug Hill Plateau, and from Lake Ontario into the western Adirondacks – it could get even worse.
“If you have significant numbers of black holes on the radar screen, then you’ve really impacted the ability of that radar to be useful for training and for operations,” Ashley said.
Fort Drum is the largest single site employer in New York State. It brings over a billion dollars to the North Country economy every year. And its airfield allows soldiers to complete complex training and deploy fast.
“Fort Drum is, and I don’t say this lightly, the premier training installation in the Northeastern United States,” said Assemblywoman Addie Jenne. She says keeping the base competitive, and regional weather radar accurate, is vital.
“We certainly need to make sure that the safety of our community – in terms of weather and also our national defense – is not compromised because of a big broad policy decision.”
Right now Jenne is meeting with wind project stakeholders around the region. She’s figuring out which of the eight proposed developments would most affect Fort Drum’s training capabilities. And she’s drafting legislation to prevent those developments from receiving state subsidies.
“I’m not looking to ban industrial wind development forever in the North Country,” Jenne said, “but I would much rather that our troops be training for whatever our government is going to require of them in the next several years.”
In a letter to the U.S. Army Chief of Staff last week, Congresswoman Elise Stefanik expressed her concern about the cumulative effective of wind development on Fort Drum.
Brian Ashley of the FDRLO says he’s not against renewable energy. He’d just rather those wind developments go somewhere else.
Wind power developments have to go through an extensive siting process and be approved by the Public Service Commission before construction can begin.
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