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Potential offshore wind project sparks local debate and federal legislation

Kyle S. Mackie/WBFO News

Rep. Chris Collins (R-Clarence) weighed in Tuesday on the debate about a potential offshore wind project in Lake Erie.

Speaking outside the U.S. Customs and Border Protection’s Buffalo Sector Headquarters on Grand Island, the congressman said wind turbines placed too close to the U.S. border with Canada would pose a national security risk by interfering with the border patrol’s radar detection system.

“It would be blocking our radar signal all the way to the Canadian border,” Collins said. “These wind turbines would basically create a blackout area.”

Collins met with border protection officials and toured the Grand Island regional headquarters before taking questions from reporters. He was not joined by any CBP representatives for the press conference, but a public information officer responded to WBFO’s request for comment with the following prepared statement:

“Congressman Chris Collins of the 27th District of New York requested to meet with Buffalo Sector Border Patrol Chief Eduardo Payan to discuss the proposed placement of wind turbines in Lake Erie. The discussion focused on the impact the turbines would have on the border patrol maritime detection capabilities, operations and national security concerns in the region.”

CPB declined to comment further on Collins’ statements that wind turbines could interfere with the agency’s ability to detect vessels crossing the international maritime border from Canada into the United States.

The project in question is still in the planning phase. Diamond Generating Corporation—a subsidiary of Mitsubishi—is exploring the possibility of placing anywhere from one to 50 wind turbines in up to three wind farms on Lake Erie. But as WBFO reported last month, the company has not yet submitted a formal application to the state.

Collins said he will introduce federal legislation to stop the potential project from going any further.

“Whether it pans out or not, we’re taking it as a real threat and we’re going to do everything we can to fight it,” he said.

The statewide chapter of the grassroots environmental organization Sierra Club disputed many of Collins’ remarks.

Credit Chris Caya/WBFO News
Future sunsets over Lake Erie could light up an offshore wind farm. Diamond Generating Corporation is exploring the possibility of placing anywhere from one to 50 wind turbines in the lake.

“All wind farms, whether on land or in the water, require approval from the Department of Defense,” said Ellen Banks, conservation chair of the Sierra Club Atlantic Chapter.

“The Department of Defense is actually a strong supporter of renewable energy because it understands that climate change is a security issue for our country, and so any potential radar issues are required to be settled in the design stage—before a turbine is even built.”

Collins said he is “no climate denier” and that he’s an “all of the above person” when it comes to energy, but he questioned the need for wind power in the region.

“Let’s face it: We don’t need the power in Western New York,” Collins said. “This isn’t something where we’re desperate for more power. It’s pretty much universally opposed by the residents, whether it’s up on the Lake Ontario shore or the Lake Erie, and now the potential here that [wind turbines] would impact border security is a real threat.”

Banks said scientific polling would be required to prove “universal opposition” to potential wind farm projects off the Western New York shoreline. However, the possibility of seeing wind turbines over Lake Erie has already sparked opposition from some members of the Erie County Legislature. The Chautauqua County Legislature also unanimously approved a motion opposing the potential construction of offshore wind farms earlier this month.

Banks said she understands people are cautious about "new things." She also shared a different perspective than Rep. Collins' of the region’s historical leadership in energy production.

“We have a proud history at Niagara Falls of being one of the very first places on Earth that had distributed electrical energy, and I think renewable energy just carries on that tradition in a way that’s clean, good for the climate [and] good for our health.”

WBFO contacted Diamond Generating Corporation Tuesday to learn more about its pursuit of wind energy projects in Lake Erie, but the company did not immediately respond to our request for comment.

Kyle Mackie is a multimedia journalist with reporting experience in Israel and the Palestinian territories, the Western Balkans and New York City. She joined WBFO to cover education and more in June 2019.
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