There may be a memorandum of agreement between Apex Clean Energy and local Navy officials for a wind farm in the Chapman Ranch area, but that doesn't mean it's smooth sailing for the hotly debated project.
The local issue took center stage at a Texas Senate committee meeting Thursday in City Hall as state and military leaders discussed how best to position bases in the state to avoid cutbacks or closures during rounds of Base Realignment and Closure evaluations. Commonly called BRAC, the evaluations look at Department of Defense base operations searching for potential fiscal savings.
An official with Apex emphasized the company was seeking to cooperate with Navy officials to minimize the effects the project would have on flight training in the area — a claim Navy officials supported — but the emergence of other projects proposed in the area has Navy officials hesitant.
"I do feel like one day we're going to wake up surrounded by wind farms in South Texas significantly impacting the mission in a negative way," Capt. Christopher Misner, commanding officer of Naval Air Station Kingsville, told the Committee on Veteran Affairs and Military Installations.
Misner said concern is not based on individual projects like the Apex development, but that the effects of hundreds of wind turbines in the vicinity of the base are not known. The Navy is developing a software to model those effects, but that's not expected to be ready until the fall at the earliest, officials said Thursday.
"We've got to develop that modeling and we're not there yet," Misner said. "That's why there's so many different stances on wind farms."
The large turbines can make tracking planes difficult or impossible, because the arms can spin at speeds faster than some aircraft fly — a fact that makes maintaining mission safety impossible, according to a presentation the committee heard from Wichita Falls' Sheppard Air Force Base.
Kingsville Mayor Sam Fugate emphasized the state will need to intervene in some cases to ensure bases' mission capabilities are not compromised.
"Our (extraterritorial jurisdiction) only goes out 2 miles. We've done everything we can do," he said. "What we really need is a moratorium on constructing wind farms within 25 miles of our base until they can come up with technology to remedy the problem."
Thursday's meeting was focused on fact-gathering, but Sen. Donna Campbell, R-New Braunfels and the committee's chair, indicated she'd consider intervening if a development threatened student pilots' training.
"We're actually making our military installations more vulnerable to closing when our military bases are situated surrounded by wind turbines," Campbell said. "We don't want that."
"If we don't have enough pilots, then anything that affects pilot training ... is a threat to our defense," she added.