State Rep. James Frank (R-Wichita Falls) wasn't bluffing earlier this year when he said he'd file a bill to limit tax incentives for wind energy projects that encroach on military airspace.
This week, Frank did just that by filing the Military Aviation Safety Act, a measure that would take away tax exemptions for wind farms built within a 30-mile radius of Texas military bases. The bill is one outcome of an increasingly divisive situation in Wichita Falls, where military officials, landowners and business leaders have railed against the possible construction of wind energy developments in the general vicinity of Sheppard Air Force Base.
At a Henrietta town hall meeting in March, two high-ranking Sheppard officials said that wind turbines in nearby Clay County could unduly interfere with base radar operations and pilot training missions. The interference could be so great, they warned, that the Pentagon might opt to move Sheppard's mission to another city.
"The encroachment of wind farms near bases creates safety risks for our pilots and hampers training missions critical to national security," Frank wrote in his November newsletter. "The economic effect of (Sheppard) on Wichita Falls, Wichita County, Clay County and surrounding areas is tremendous. Obviously, anything that endangers our pilots or our economy must be seriously examined."
The Military Aviation Safety Act aims to amend the state's tax code, specifically the portion that relates to tax abatements for property in "reinvestment zones" that sometimes encompass school districts and other taxing entities. Wind energy developers frequently rely on agreements with local school districts and the state comptroller's office to limit their tax liability - in return, developers make payments to districts that can be used for capital improvements such as new buildings.
For example, wind energy developments recently helped Archer City ISD afford an $11.4 million, state-of-the-art junior high/high school. At Clay County's Midway ISD, a $6.3 million bond for a new agriculture building, water system improvements and security upgrades will be mostly funded by the Shannon Wind Farm.
Frank's bill would cut off abatements for developments within 30 nautical miles of military bases with missions connected to aviation. He noted in his newsletter that legislators previously have attempted to enact an outright ban on wind turbine installations near military bases, though those efforts were unsuccessful "because Texans do not take kindly to restrictions, for good cause or not, on their property rights. I share many of those reservations."
The 85th Texas Legislature begins Jan. 10.