Wind Turbines Debated as Senator Robert Ortt assumes Energy Committee post

Following in the footsteps of his predecessor George Maziarz, Senator Robert Ortt was named last week to the state senate’s powerful Standing Committee on Energy and Telecommunications, or Energy Committee, for short.

“The (Energy Committee) oversees the development of legislation and policy related to energy and communications sectors. Committee members aim to promote competitive markets, support private investment, streamline regulations, create jobs and keep consumer costs down. Priorities include modernizing the state’s energy generation, transmission and distribution; facilitating expansion of renewable and clean energy technologies; and expanding high-speed broadband and other new communication technologies to underserved areas of the state,” says the state senate website.

“I truly look forward to serving on the Senate Committee on Energy – on an issue of vital importance to our community and our entire state. With the greatest generating capacity in the state, the Niagara Power Project is a substantial component of the state’s energy portfolio, and plays a critical role in the Western New York economy. I’m dedicated to continuing our region’s success with traditional major sources of energy – like Niagara and Somerset – while exploring innovative technologies of tomorrow like solar and geo-thermal to maintain and create good, local jobs. I believe we can meet the significant capacity demands throughout the state and that Western New York’s workforce and ingenuity will be a critical part of it. We can do this while protecting our environment and ensuring local residents play a significant role in decision-making,” said Senator Ortt.

It’s important to note that “continuing our region’s success with traditional major sources of energy” as Sen. Ortt puts it – at Somerset – undeniably refers to the former AES, now Blackstone Group, dirty coal-fired power plant on the shores of Lake Ontario at the extreme isolated northeast corner of Niagara County.

According to “Find Your Risk from Power Plant Pollution,” a 2011 study by Abt Associates commissioned by the Clean Air Task Force, a nonprofit research and advocacy organization, the Somerset coal-fired plant that Senator Ortt is “dedicated to continuing” was statistically responsible in 2010 for 11 deaths, including an estimated 19 heart attacks (at a public health cost of over $2 million), 170 asthma attacks, 9 hospital admissions ($200,000), 7 cases of chronic bronchitis and 8 asthma emergency room visits.

For decades, when the air was right, Niagara County shoreline residents could observe a brown pall, occupying an inversion layer immediately above the horizon, stretching clear across Lake Ontario all the way to Toronto.

In addition, while giving a nod in his statement to solar and geothermal in his statement, Sen. Ortt conspicuously does not mention wind power.

The 2015 New York State Energy Plan charts the course to achieve a 40% reduction of greenhouse gas emissions by the year 2030. The plan’s Offshore Wind Initiative “has the potential to become a major source of renewable power for New York (the 15th windiest state in the nation, according to the DEC) that strengthens our energy system, reduces greenhouse gas emissions, and jumpstarts local economic development.”

The plan reports reports that, as of 2011, wind was already 9% of New York’s renewable electricity portfolio, well ahead of solar and geothermal, and has the potential to fulfill half, read that again, half, of the state’s total electricity needs.

Why then did Senator Ortt omit wind energy from his statement announcing his appointment to the Senate Energy Committee? Could it have anything to do with the fact that he’s allied himself with a Somerset outfit that calls itself SOS (“Save Ontario Shores”), a group of rural NIMBY’s who have been fighting tooth and nail a wind turbine project slated for their tiny, isolated settlement?

SOS, among many other arguments and with Sen. Ortt’s enthusiastic support and advocacy, contends that windmills at Somerset would present an insurmountable threat to operations at the Niagara Falls Air Reserve Station, a contention that’s thoroughly refuted by the Air Force itself.

Senator Robert Ortt joins a protest against wind energy at the Niagara Falls Air Reserve Station last year.

Senator Robert Ortt joins a protest against wind energy at the Niagara Falls Air Reserve Station last year.

“A top officer of the local Air Force Reserve unit said last week that the possible construction of wind turbines in Somerset and Yates will have no impact on operations at the Niagara Falls Air Reserve Station,” reported the Buffalo News on Oct 23, 2016.

Senator Ortt must weigh carefully the needs of local constituents, as they rightly or wrongly perceive them, vis a vis the necessity of limiting pollution, enhancing public health and reversing climate change which, after all, should be among the goals of the Senate Energy Committee.

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