Opponents of additional wind farm projects in Clay County may have gained a powerful ally: Sheppard Air Force Base.
Two high ranking base officials told attendees of a Thursday town hall meeting in Henrietta that the installation of a proposed wind turbine farm in the area could interfere with base radar and could limit the number of days pilots are able to train.
It’s also possible that a wind energy development could force the Department of Defense to move Sheppard’s flight missions elsewhere, Col. Gregory Keeton said at the meeting.
“In the past, there have been Navy and Air Force bases that have been so impacted much (by wind farms) that the government moved operations to a place where they’re more feasible,” Keeton said. “Can we adjust our mission? It’s a possibility. But it’s a possibility we can’t.”
Annually, Sheppard generates about $750 million for area economies.
A base spokeswoman said on Thursday that DoD officials began met with Clay County commissioners, Petrolia Independent School District’s board and the Sheppard Military Affairs Committee when they learned a wind farm developer had taken interest in the county.
Keeton said at the meeting that Sheppard has been in contact with a company considering development in Clay County. A wind farm developer previously told the Times Record News that Byers and Bluegrove are two potential sites for installation of turbines.
Wind turbines within a 25-mile radius of the air base interfere with the way radars read the air space, effectively creating dead spots, Keeton said, adding that a zone with no radar image could lead to plane collisions between Sheppard and civilian aircraft.
The height of a wind turbine — 328 feet — also would cause Sheppard pilots to fly at a higher altitude, Keeton said. Turbines could altogether eliminate flight missions on days with inclement weather, where pilots are forced to fly closer to the ground.
More than 100 flight training days could potentially be lost if a new wind farm is developed.
Keeton approximated that the proposed development is would be three-by-eight miles, though he said he did not know how far along plans for its installation are.
He said the base will continue to inform Clay County residents of how a wind farm could adversely effect its operations.
Forrest Baldwin, a leader of the group Clay County Against Wind Farms, said on Thursday that members of his organization have met and shared their concerns with base officials.
“I think there is a real concern there on behalf on the base on the impact to its training,” Baldwin said.