An economic study (report attached to this page) conducted this week by a Midwestern State University economics professor could have important implications for proposed wind energy developments in nearby Clay County.
In reviewing labor and job earnings statistics, professor John Martinez found that more than 50 percent of Clay and Archer county workers are employed in Wichita County, and also that at least two-thirds of Clay and Archer residents' net earnings — both direct and indirect — come from their employment in Wichita County.
Along with the oil and gas industry, manufacturing companies and the university, Sheppard Air Force Base was identified in the study as one of the primary drivers of the area economy. The loss of any of those employment hubs "is going to have a profound impact on the surrounding counties," Martinez said in an interview.
Here's the rub: About a month ago, Sheppard officials told attendees of a public forum in Henrietta that proposed wind energy developments in Clay County could undermine the integrity of their radar systems and also could reduce the number of days student pilots are able to train.
The worst case scenario, officials said, is that Sheppard's flight training missions could be moved elsewhere. Sheppard has placed its economic impact on the region at $750 million annually. The Wichita Falls Chamber of Commerce and Industry placed the figure even higher, at $1 billion.
Martinez said he produced this week's report at the behest of Kevin Pearson, a vice president of the Chamber of Commerce. Last month, the Chamber urged recipients of an email to consider Sheppard's significant economic footprint on the region before supporting wind developments in Clay County.
Also last month, a member of Sheppard's Military Affairs Committee and Wichita Falls Mayor Glenn Barham testified about the city's predicament before the Texas Senate committee overseeing the state's military installations.
Republican Sen. Donna Campbell, chair of the Committee on Veteran Affairs and Military Installations, said she was considering intervening in wind energy plans to erect turbines in the vicinity of Texas military bases. Campbell remarked that the Department of Defense employs 225,000 workers in Texas, while the wind industry employs 15,000.
Jimmy Horn, owner of the company developing two wind energy projects in Clay County, said the Martinez study is the next wave in an offensive against alternative energy plans in the region. He described the myriad efforts to stem wind farm development as "scare tactics."
"This report from the professor is skewed to attack us," said Horn, owner of Horn Wind PM LLC. "(Sheppard) is spreading inaccurate information because they're not experts on the subject. And they're asking others to spread information to keep us from doing our business. That's exactly what this is. There's no other reason to do this."
The developer said that Horn Wind consultants are conducting "pre-studies" to determine what impact potential developments may have on Sheppard. If any "substantive" impact is shown, Horn said he'd consider halting wind farm plans.
On a related note, local anti-wind energy organizer John Greer is scheduled to give two presentations on wind farms Thursday at the Dillard College of Business Administration. The talks are set for 7:45 a.m. and 4:30 p.m.