A New Braunfels senator who chairs the state's Committee on Veteran Affairs and Military Installations said she's considering intervening in wind energy developments near military installations.
Republican Sen. Donna Campbell heard testimony last month from individuals concerned about the encroachment of wind projects on land near Department of Defense bases. Among those who testified were Tom Whaylen of the Sheppard Military Affairs Committee and Wichita Falls Mayor Glenn Barham.
"There are more instances of wind farms near bases due to growth in the highly subsidized renewable energy sector and they present a unique and growing challenge to our military installations," Campbell wrote in an email to the Times Record News. "It is my priority as chairman to ensure our military installations remain mission capable, both for our nation's security and the huge economic impact they bring to communities across our state."
Clay County, already home to one wind turbine development, may be adding two more before 2020, the projects' developer previously has said. A local opposition group fighting additional developments recently was joined by Sheppard Air Force Base, whose officials have said wind turbines could adversely affect the base's mission.
The two proposed wind projects — both falling within a 25-mile radius of the air force base — could cause the DoD to move Sheppard's mission elsewhere, costing the Wichita Falls area roughly $750 million annually. Base officials have said the projects could undermine the integrity of their radar systems and also could reduce the number of days student pilots are able to train.
Campbell placed the economic benefit of all military installations in Texas at $150 billion, adding that the DoD employs 225,000 Texans.
"By comparison, the wind industry employs 15,000," she wrote.
Now Campbell is considering measures which could make it more difficult for wind farms to be installed near military bases. She cited early notification, community task forces and joint land use studies as the most likely solutions, writing that "If military installations are able to meet and advise industry early on about how development affects their mission, it will help facilitate decisions that are in the best interest of everyone."
The installation of wind turbines also is subject to approval from the Federal Aviation Administration.
Still, documents show that in at least two instances Texas wind energy developers have been able to strike tentative deals with the military. Contracts between the parties in those cases involved payment from private industry to the DoD for changes in radar technology and "curtailment" of turbine operations at the request of the military.
"I am hopeful that agreements can be reached between bases and industry, but even agreements that have been reached seem to be surrounded by uncertainty," Campbell wrote. " ... Ultimately, we are talking about over 255,000 jobs at our military installations that we don't want to unnecessarily put at risk by subsidizing wind farms."
The owner of Horn Wind LLC PM, the developer of the Clay County projects, has in the past accused Sheppard of using scare tactics to halt the company's development plans.
Jimmy Horn said base officials have made few efforts to cooperate with his company before warning community members about how the projects could jeopardize military missions.
Horn said he doubts that wind projects would have a significant impact on Sheppard operations.
More than 20 Clay County landowners have signed lease agreements with Horn and Canadian alternative energy company Alterra Power Corp. to have turbines erected on their properties.
Together the proposed wind farms near Bluegrove and Byers would comprise more than 11,000 acres and cost $450 million.