A proposal to build a wind farm offshore in Lake Erie is in the trial balloon stage. Rep. Chris Collins wants to shoot it down before it gets off the ground.
Collins, R-Clarence, held a news conference last Tuesday expressing concern that a collection of up to 50 wind turbines in the lake would threaten border security by blocking the radar used to determine if vessels are crossing from Canada into the United States. State Sen. Christopher Jacobs, who is campaigning for Collins’ seat in Congress, expressed similar worries, saying he opposes the project.
The two officials raise a legitimate issue about the potential for wind turbines to interfere with radar. However, there are solutions to that and our society’s need to develop renewable energy sources, and break free of our reliance on fossil fuels, demands keeping an open mind.
A company called Diamond Wind, a subsidiary of Mitsubishi, has proposed building offshore wind turbines in Lake Erie, possibly near Evans and Dunkirk.
Collins and Jacobs — who has declared his candidacy for Collins’ seat representing the 27th Congressional District — are the latest Republican politicians to speak out against the proposal. Erie County Legislators John Mills and Lynne Dixon, an Independence Party member who is endorsed by the Republican Party in her race for Erie County executive, in June introduced a resolution opposing the plan.
Collins said building the turbines, which would be an estimated 460 feet tall, is “not something to take lightly. It would put our border at risk.”
Collins spoke outside the U.S. Customs and Border Protection offices in Grand Island, where he met with customs officials.
“They are confirming the threat is not only real, but it would be devastating to know what’s coming across from Canada into the U.S. because this would be blocking all the way to the Canadian border,” Collins said.
Jacobs echoed Collins’ sentiments. He said officials from Homeland Security confirmed that the wind structures “would make their radar systems useless in that Southtowns coastline.”
There aren’t enough facts known about the wind farm proposal to give it a thumbs up or thumbs down. But there’s no reason to smother the idea in its infancy.
Wind turbines can and do interfere with radar used in law enforcement, weather forecasting, oceanography and other pursuits. In 2014, a consortium of U.S. federal agencies established a “turbine radar interference mitigation working group” to address the issue, with the goal of ensuring “that wind development and radar missions can continue to coexist effectively.”
Hugh Roarty is an oceanographer who works for Rutgers University’s Department of Marine and Coastal Sciences. He recently spoke at a conference in California about turbines and radar interference.
Roarty, in a conversation with The News, explained that the border protection officials’ radar system is tuned to focus on ships passing through while ignoring reflections it gets off waves in the lake. The spinning blades on wind turbines would complicate things, “corrupting” the radar’s usefulness. That’s not an unsolvable problem, however.
The radar could be recalibrated, replaced or supplemented by a different radar system. That’s the approach used at Travis Air Force Base in California. The base, whose radar was being thrown off by nearby wind turbines, in 2015 installed a light-wave radar system designed to operate at a different frequency range than its previous surveillance radar system.
The airfield now peacefully co-exists with a wind farm that’s less than five nautical miles away.
Similar accommodations could be made with a wind complex in Lake Erie. A big question would be: Who would pay the bill for new or enhanced radar equipment? That would have to be negotiated, but the company looking to build the turbines, Diamond Wind, would be a leading contender.
More than one government office — federal, state and local — would need to sign off on a project of this size. Border and Defense Department officials would get a say in whether it wins approval.
Impact statements, public comment periods and lobbying campaigns can all be expected if the project moves forward. But until climate change shows any sign of abating — spoiler alert, it won’t anytime soon — there’s no sense in slamming the door on alternative energy ventures. There’s time to examine all these issues.