State Rep. James Frank, R- Wichita Falls, plans to file a proposal in Texas' next legislative session that would place restrictions on tax abatements for some wind energy projects near military bases.
Two possible wind farm developments in Clay County could threaten flight training missions and radar operations at nearby Sheppard Air Force Base, according to base officials and wind energy opponents. The worst case scenario, officials have said, is that Sheppard's missions are moved elsewhere and Wichita Falls loses an estimated $750 million in annual economic impact.
Frank told the Times Record News on Wednesday that the economic benefit of wind energy development in North Texas is undeniable, but so is the large fiscal shadow cast by Sheppard Air Force Base and other military operations in the state.
And when it comes down to it, he said, Sheppard is more important.
"Obviously Sheppard is the No. 1 driver around here. You can't take a risk with that," Frank said.
The dust-up between the base and Horn Wind PM LLC, the developer of the wind projects, began in March when Sheppard officials held a town hall meeting in Henrietta, telling attendees that proposed wind farms in Bluegrove and Byers would threaten their missions. The message was clear: if the wind projects reach fruition, the Department of the Defense could move Sheppard's missions elsewhere.
The proposed projects span more than 11,000 acres and have an estimated value of $450 million. Alterra Power Corp., the ownership interest in the developments, already has brought online the Shannon wind farm in southwest Clay County.
Frank has his sights set on a state process that awards real estate tax abatements to for-profit enterprises. Formally called a Chapter 313 application, the Texas Comptroller-led process is referred to in some circles as "corporate welfare." The representative's proposal would aim to nix abatements for wind energy projects within a 25-mile radius of military installations.
"The (abatement) is supposed to be done if it helps economic development. It is not supposed to be done if it hurts economic development," Frank said.
Frank, the vice chairman of the House Committee on Defense and Veteran Affairs, is not the only Texas legislator to side with the military in a fight against wind farms. In April, New Braunfels Sen. Donna Campbell vowed to fight for a buffer zone between wind turbines and military bases.
Frank said he and Campbell have worked together to draft a proposal, though they have not decided who will file the initial measure and who will be a sponsor. It is expected any piece of legislation filed in the House will have a companion proposal in the Senate.
Texas' next legislative session begins in January.