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Another Voice: Misguided bill undermines Defense Department, wind energy industry

By Jon Powers

I grew up northeast of Buffalo in Clarence, and joined the Army after college. My time in the military ranged from running training exercises in garrison to patrolling the streets of Baghdad as an artillery platoon leader in Operation Iraqi Freedom. My experiences – and especially my time in Iraq – made it crystal clear to me that moving aggressively to adopt clean energy is vital to America’s national security.

Since leaving active duty, I’ve had the opportunity to act on that realization, serving as the first-ever special advisor on energy to the U.S. Army. During my tenure, the so-called Siting Clearinghouse was created at the Department of Defense with the job to assess the potential impact of proposed energy developments on military training and other missions. Part of that involves conducting a formal review of every single wind energy application filed with the Federal Aviation Administration and making sure that energy development happens in a way that is compatible with the military mission. I’ve seen firsthand that the process works.

Unfortunately, a seemingly well-intentioned but misguided bill pending in the New York State Assembly (A.9053A), would undermine the Department of Defense’s review process. It also threatens to cripple the ability of the booming wind energy industry – which employs more than 11,000 veterans like myself nationwide, according to nonpartisan business group Environmental Entrepreneurs – to continue to grow here in New York State.

The bill proposes to restrict state funding for the construction or operation of any wind project in designated areas around the Army’s Fort Drum – even if the Department of Defense determines there is no conflict with military operations. I believe that is the wrong approach – for the state of New York and the U.S. military.

Decisions about how best to protect the mission should be left to our military. They know what they’re doing. Over the past five years, the Department of Defense has reviewed thousands of proposed wind projects, the overwhelming majority of which have been found to pose no issue to military operations. In the small minority of cases where it concluded that a project could have an impact, the department has taken steps to protect the military mission. This includes negotiating significant changes to wind projects, ranging from moving wind turbines to reducing the size of projects. In some cases developers have decided to cancel projects all together. In fact, I am not aware of a single wind project that has ever been built over the Department of Defense's objection.

Despite that track record, the bill pending in Albany would replace the Department of Defense’s judgement about what makes sense when it comes to wind projects with a one size fits all approach – banning all development within a certain distance of Fort Drum. That runs counter to the Department of Defense's long-standing position – dating back to my time in the Pentagon – that it is “not possible” to apply a "one-size-fits-all" standoff distance between military activities and development. The military has also said that generic standoff distances, such as those the bill proposes for New York, “are not useful.”

Congress recently strengthened the law governing the Department of Defense project reviews to explicitly require procedures to ensure local military installations like Fort Drum are consulted on proposed developments. It also expands the secretary of defense’s authority to determine that a project presents an unacceptable risk to national security – including risks of significantly impairing or degrading the Department of Defense's ability to conduct training and maintain readiness.

The legislation pending in Albany proposes that New York cast aside years of Department of Defense experience and the military’s own judgement about what’s necessary to protect national security. Enacting it would be a mistake.

Jon Powers is an Iraq War veteran, former special advisor on energy to the U.S. Army, and president of CleanCapital. He is from Clarence.

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