Some members of the New York State Senate this week advanced dangerous legislation that would needlessly stop wind power development within 40 miles of military bases throughout the state. If enacted, this bill would make it nearly impossible for New York state to meet its ambitious “50% by 2030” renewable energy goal, just when President Trump’s outrageous decision to withdraw the United States from the Paris Agreement means that state leadership on clean energy is more important ever. Even worse, the bill would be bad for New York State’s economy and harmful to air quality and public health. The bill sponsors claim that their legislation, which appears to be a copycat bill very similar to bills already introduced in North Carolina and Texas, is needed to protect military bases from “the negative impact wind turbines could pose.” That’s an alternative fact, big time.
The truth is, this legislation—S. 1755—would undermine the growth of clean energy and clean energy jobs in New York State. By excluding from responsible development areas of more than 5,000 square miles around each of New York’s military bases, it would pointlessly hamper wind power development in the Empire State just when we need it most to protect against dangerous climate change, create good jobs, help our kids breathe cleaner air, save consumers money on energy, and support rural landowners and communities through lease payments and tax contributions. (Five thousand square miles, by the way, is approximately the size of the state of Connecticut.)
And there’s absolutely no reason or justification for this reckless bill. I happen to know something about how the military views renewable energy, having worked with the Pentagon to write a primer on siting renewable energy projects to ensure compatibility with both military operations and ecosystem protection. The U.S. Department of Defense already has in place a process, called the Siting Clearinghouse, that reviews for potential conflicts between renewable energy projects and military operations and works to resolve them if any are identified. If, through that review process, the Pentagon finds conflicts exist between a proposed wind power project and military operations, the DoD or a local military base can object to a wind power project and the Federal Aviation Administration can uphold that objection, putting a stop to any project until and unless the technical issues are worked through and resolved. Using this siting process, wind projects, such as one near Travis Air Force Base in Solano County, California and others on the Oregon-Washington border, have successfully been sited near military bases with DOD support. Indeed, in FY2014, the DOD Siting Clearinghouse reviewed 2,400 proposed renewable energy projects and found that “the vast majority of projects present no unacceptable impact to DOD mission.”
In fact, the U.S. Department of Defense embraces wind power, which it’s utilizing to help meet its goal of getting 25 percent of its electricity from clean sources by 2025. In January, for instance, the Navy told the Associated Press, it “is committed to working with developers to ensure that renewable energy projects are compatible with our mission and operations.” And some military bases, like Fort Buchanan in Puerto Rico and the Massachusetts Military Reservation in Cape Cod, even have wind turbines on site.
Why wind power? Not only is it cheaper now in many parts of the country than electricity generated from dirty fossil fuels, but it’s also a solution to the perilous problem of climate change, which the Pentagon views as a “threat multiplier”—something that makes existing dangers worse. Indeed, in 2014, Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel noted, “Rising global temperatures, changing precipitation patterns, climbing sea levels and more extreme weather events will intensify the challenges of global instability, hunger, poverty, and conflict. They will likely lead to food and water shortages, pandemic disease, disputes over refugees and resources, and destruction by natural disasters in regions across the globe.” For these reasons and more, the DoD, like the vast majority of Americans, understands that wind power is one of the solutions to the dangers America faces. It’s not a danger itself.
Moreover, New York State has a uniform and transparent siting procedure that incorporates full environmental review not only for environmental impacts but also for issues like compatibility with military operations. It is designed to ensure that wind power projects are sited in the right place and incorporate any appropriate mitigation measures.
The New York Senate should be working hard to advance wind power development here in New York, not to stop it. Responsibly sited wind power offers New Yorkers a host of benefits. New York is already home to nine wind power manufacturing facilities and wind power here supported 2,855 jobs in 2016. New York wind power projects paid rural landowners leasing payments of between $5-10 million last year, and the wind power industry has invested $3.7 billion in New York to date. Our state is home to more than 1,000 wind turbines so far, and in 2016, the pollution-free technology generated almost 3 percent of the state’s electricity—enough to power 365,000 homes. With the right policies in place, these numbers can grow. But laws that make it harder for New Yorkers and the nation to enjoy the many benefits that wind power offers are the very last thing New Yorkers need. And just today, Governor Cuomo announced a bold, new renewable energy initiative, which is aimed at accelerating energy efficiency and renewable energy growth to make New York a magnet for new energy technologies and creating 40,000 new, good-paying clean energy jobs by 2020.
S. 1755 uses the pretense of military readiness to stop the development of a pollution-free power source New Yorkers overwhelmingly support. But the Pentagon itself doesn’t think wind power is a problem. The Department of Defense supports wind power and has provided an appropriate process for addressing and mitigating any military siting concerns. NRDC urges the State Senate to reject S. 1755.
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