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Collins bill aims to stop wind turbine project

WASHINGTON – Rep. Chris Collins Tuesday took the strongest stand he could take against Apex Clean Energy's proposal to build up to 70 wind turbines in the region: he introduced a bill that aims to block the project.

Collins' legislation would prevent energy-producing windmills from being subsidized with renewable energy tax credits if they are located within 40 miles of a U.S. military facility. That's important because the tax credits help wind power projects become profitable.

"Federal tax policy has been the predominant driver of wind energy development over the last decade," the American Wind Energy Association stated, on its website.

There is virtually no chance Collins' bill could pass by the end of the current Congress in December, but the legislation – which parallels a bill introduced in the Senate by Sen. John Cornyn, R-Texas – would stand a better chance next year, when both the Congress and the White House will be controlled by Republicans.

Col. Joseph D. Janik, operations group commander for the 914th Airlift Wing, has said the proposed wind turbine project  would have no impact on operations at the Niagara Falls Air Reserve Station.

Collins introduced the legislation thinking that the wind turbines could limit the missions that the Air Force might be able to bring to the Niagara base in coming years.

“I cannot condone any activity which puts the Niagara Falls Air Reserve Station’s (NFARS) future operations and viability at risk,” said Collins, R-Clarence. “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."

Apex, of Charlottesville, Va., is considering building upwards of 70 wind turbines in Niagara and Orleans counties, in the towns of Somerset and Yates, in a project called "Lighthouse Wind."

The company has been working out agreements with interested parties on topics to be included in studies of the project's impact. Those studies would have to be finished before Apex could file an application for the project with the state Department of Public Service.

"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," said Cat Mosely, public affairs manager for Apex. "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.' ”

Nevertheless, the project has already drawn vehement opposition. A lobbyist for the air base, former deputy Erie County Executive Carl J. Calabrese, told a Niagara County Legislature committee in October that the wind turbines – each as much as 620 feet tall – could be considered "encroachment" onto the air base's air space and radar areas.

But Janik told The Buffalo News that the wind turbines – which would be at least 25 miles from the air base – would not affect flights of the KC-135 refueling tanker that the 914th will begin flying next year. That's because the planes would be flying at an altitude high above the wind turbines.

Calabrese told The News that his firm, Masiello, Martucci, Calabrese & Associates, also is working on behalf of SOS – Save Ontario Shores, a local group that opposes the Lighthouse Wind project.

That group contends that the wind turbines would be ugly and that they could kill birds migrating near Lake Ontario.

“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.

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