Department of Defense says Lighthouse Wind unlikely to impact Air Base

By Tom Rivers, Editor Posted 31 May 2016 at 12:00 am

YATES – A plan for up to 70 wind turbines in Yates and Somerset has received some of its strongest resistance, including public rebukes from Congressman Chris Collins and State Sen. Rob Ortt, because they see the project as possibly jeopardizing the Niagara Falls Air Reserve Station.

Apex Clean Energy, developer for the project, countered last week saying the proposed project would not harm the base’s mission or the future for other military training plans.

H. David Belote, a retired Air Force colonel, now works as a consultant for Apex. He met last week with local officials, Save Ontario Shores members, landowners and supporters of the Niagara Falls Air Reserve Station.

Belote showed them a March 16 letter from the Department of Defense, stating the DoD doesn’t see a negative impact on the base from Lighthouse Wind.

“The project is unlikely to impact military testing and/or training operations in the area,” Steven J. Sample, chief of the Military Evaluation Branch for the Department of Defense, wrote to Taylor Quarles, development manager for Apex.

The DoD did an informal review of the project, and is awaiting locations and heights of the turbines. The DoD, as well as the Federal Aviation Agency, will take a more thorough review of the project once the final application is submitted, which is expected this summer.

Belote said the far western end of the turbines are about 25 miles from the base. “It’s not an impact,” he said in a phone interview.

The turbines won’t affect drone operations when those begin at the base, Belote said, and he doesn’t expect there will be issues with radar from the turbines, which could peak at more than 600 feet to the top of the spinning blades.

The radar issue will be reviewed by the North American Aerospace Defense Command, but that organization needs to know final locations and heights. Belote said he expects that review will be this summer or fall.

Belote served as the first director of the Pentagon office that approves or rejects wind and solar projects around military bases. He said in his current role as a consultant that he wouldn’t advocate for a turbine project if it would hurt a military operation.

If the mission of the base changes in the future to other planes, such as F-22 or F-35, Belote said Apex could put night-vision lighting on the turbines. He said other air bases, such as the Travis Air Force Base in California, have many more turbines closer than what is proposed for Somerset and Yates. Belote said there are nearly 900 turbines within 12 miles of Travis.

The presentation from Apex didn’t allay concerns by the project’s opponents. Save Ontario Shores met with Quarles and Belote last week at Apex’s Barker office. SOS said it wanted more information about how the turbines could impact the base.

“This was really more of the same,” said Pam Atwater, president of Save Ontario Shores.  “Apex makes vague statements and then refuses to give the public access to the data that they were based upon. We did not hear anything that has changed our position. Apex will use every option available to them, including using high-paid D.C. lobbyists, to try and force this project upon communities that have legitimate concerns about the impact of the project on local employment and have clearly expressed they do not want the wind turbines installed.”

Atwater also said the letter from the Department of Defense was just an informal or preliminary review.

“SOS is deeply concerned with the next Base Realignment and Closure Commission process,” she said. “If the DoD, which is under extreme pressure from the Obama Administration to engage in green energy initiatives, were to rule that the Apex project is not an encroachment into the MOA (Military Operating Area), there would be nothing preventing a future BRAC, under a different administration with different priorities, from overruling the decision and concluding that some level of encroachment does exist.  Sacrificing what is now an encroachment free MOA could place NFARS, which has already faced closure recommendations from the last two BRAC’s, in jeopardy.”