A new Navy study concludes nearby wind turbines could affect air traffic control radars, meaning possible changes for a wind farm being developed on Chapman Ranch.
A group of local stakeholders in the project, including city and county leaders and state legislators, received information about the Mitigation Response Team analysis on the proposed South Texas wind project on Nov. 6. Naval Air Stations Corpus Christi and Kingsville are points of contact for the study.
The report said a close proximity to wind turbines could impact air traffic control radars and reduce target detection or create false targets to appear on the radar. The secondary radar systems that track aircraft with active transponders were not affected.
"The presence of non-cooperating aircraft in Navy operating airspace where primary radar is degraded poses a risk to naval aviation safety," the report reads. "If the degradation is determined to be unacceptable, the Navy will have to mitigate the loss of radar performance in order to avoid negative impacts to naval aviation activities in South Texas."
The Chapman Ranch 86-turbine wind farm project, which was sold to Enbridge by Apex Clean Energy earlier this year, has long been a concern for local leaders, including the Corpus Christi City Council and Nueces County commissioners.
After the Federal Aviation Administration gave its final approval of the proposed wind farm, the council voted to strip $14 million from next year's budget for proposed capital improvements for the 16 square miles of Chapman Ranch that the city annexed in 2014.
The land was annexed to prevent or regulate the windfarm development because some believed it could jeopardize Navy training operations.
A separate study conducted by Space and Naval Warfare Systems Command also ran a predictive cumulative impact study on the effects of wind turbine projects on airport surveillance radar. It was the first attempt to study the impact of several wind projects in a radar line of sight.
Congressman Blake Farenthold released a statement on the results.
"The report released yesterday confirms what we've believed for a long time, there is a real issue with windfarms interfering with radar," the statement reads. "There are technological, regulatory and legislative solutions that can be used to solve these problems, including upgrading and networking radars, requiring transponders on all planes in the region or banning wind farms near airfields."
Wind farm developers are required to enter into mitigation agreements with the military, which could potentially include funding for additional radar and networking of systems, according to Farenthold's statement.
Since the Navy has identified possible negative impacts from the wind farms, which are considered "renewable energy development," it will seek to implement "several mitigation measures to address degraded performance of primary radar for air traffic control," including radar fusion, implementation of special air traffic rules in South Texas, radar system performance upgrades/optimization and potentially the acquisition and integration of replacement or in-fill radars, according to the report.
"The Navy attempts to work with wind developers to minimize impacts through optimal sitting of turbines and agreements to curtail operations in certain situations," the report reads.
Michael Barnes, spokesperson for Enbridge, said the company has not seen the full study and the company developing the wind farm was not invited to the meeting where the report was presented. He said he has heard mixed reports and nothing regarding the Chapman Ranch project.
Currently, cement for roads leading to the wind farm is being poured, he said. Construction has yet to begin on the turbines.
Though he has not seen the naval study, Commissioner Mike Pusley said he is confident in Texas legislators protecting the military bases in the Coastal Bend, including U.S. Sen. John Cornyn.
Cornyn has said he wants to end tax incentives for new wind energy projects that would be located within 30 miles of a military airfield. He introduced a bill to Senate on Sept. 28 that would apply only to new projects, such as the one on Chapman Ranch.
"There's already legislation that Cornyn is carrying that would limit wind farms operating close to military bases where it would pose a threat to military bases," Pusley said. "I hope that legislation will pass through Congress and get signed by (President-elect Donald) Trump. It's the only way we'll ever get any protection. I think it's the only hope."