By Larry Beahan
On July 27, the Erie County Legislature “snookered” the citizens it represents and the environment we live in. The legislators passed an ill-considered resolution that opposes the Lighthouse wind turbines at Somerset in Niagara County. They “suspended the rules” and voted this shortsighted measure without it having been on the agenda, with no discussion and only misinformation in its “whereases.”
The Lighthouse wind farm is a component of our statewide, indeed worldwide, campaign to stop burning fossil fuels, which have blanketed the earth with carbon dioxide, distorted our climate and given us freak 500-year storms like Hurricane Harvey.
The legislators’ only rationale is amateur speculation that these turbines might be an obstruction to operations at Niagara Falls Air Reserve Station.
In fact, the Department of Defense promotes wind and solar power as a matter of national security. The policies that enable that encouragement are laid out clearly in the DOD report to the congressional defense committees, “The Effect of Windmill Farms on Military Readiness 2006.”
Travis Air Force Base in California has 900 wind turbines located within 12 miles. It hosts the 60th Air Mobility Wing with a fleet of C-5 Galaxies, KC-10 Extenders and C-17 Globemaster III aircraft as well as eight other military air groups.
Col. Joseph Janik, who commands the KC-135 air refueling unit at NFARS, says that their training flights operate at over 3,000 feet, well above the proposed 600-foot turbines, and that the drones the base operates will not even be located at NFARS.
Retired Air Force Col H. David Belote, director of the DOD office that approves wind projects near military bases, assures us that his colleagues there see no conflict between the Lighthouse turbines at Somerset and operations, 25 miles away, at NFARS.
In a March 2016 letter to the developers of Lighthouse Wind, Steven Sample, chief of the Military Evaluation Branch of the DOD Siting Clearinghouse, wrote that the project “is unlikely to impact military testing and/or training operations in the area.”
On the other hand, there is Carl J. Calabrese, former deputy Erie County executive, and his lobbying firm, which advertises, “Your government action professionals with the connections that help you win.” He represents “Save Ontario Shores,” a group of beachfront owners who oppose Lighthouse Wind for their looks.
Calabrese and John Cooper, who reports no military or aviation experience but is chairman of the Niagara Military Affairs Council, espouse the theory that the Lighthouse turbines “might” crimp the chances of NFARS surviving the next round of base closures.
Let’s hope the Erie County Legislature reviews the contribution that Lighthouse wind turbines will make toward climate stability, recognizes professional opinions on their compatibility with NFARS air operations and undoes this “snookering” the members have, probably inadvertently, perpetrated.
Larry Beahan is conservation chairman of the Sierra Club Niagara Group.