The fight to beat back the perceived encroachment of wind energy developments on military airspace in Texas is being re-ignited this legislative session.
This month, Sen. Donna Campbell (R-New Braunfels) filed a Senate Bill 277, which attempts to limit tax incentives to wind farms built within 30 miles of military bases. The legislation serves as a companion bill to one filed by Rep. James Frank (R-Wichita Falls), who has previously said energy projects endangering military missions should be closely examined. Frank's proposal, House Bill 445, is worded identically to Campbell's.
The legislators face similar situations in their districts -- both have a military base within their boundaries, along with a burgeoning wind farm project that reportedly could affect flight training missions and radar operations. Constituencies in both places have called for energy developments to be banished when in close proximity to bases, a reaction to the Pentagon's repeated threats to move bases elsewhere, leaving behind them a deep hole in local economies.
"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."
For their part, wind developers and clean energy advocates have responded by saying that processes -- including Department of Defense and Federal Aviation Administration reviews -- are in place to deal with such situations already.
Campbell and Frank's bills hinge on limiting the effectiveness of tax abatement agreements reached between wind energy developers and school districts. The deals generally are referred to as Chapter 313 agreements for their place in the tax code and are regulated by the state's comptroller office.
If the bills are voted through, wind energy projects in so-called tax "reinvestment zones" will not be applicable for tax abatements if built within 30 miles of military bases. Per state tax code, any project eligible for tax limitation is considered to be in a reinvestment zone. Without abatements, developers likely would look elsewhere to build wind farms, as they frequently rely on the agreements to limit their tax liability.
Frank noted in his most recent 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."
Though some bills have already been filed, the 85th Texas Legislature does not start in earnest until Jan. 10.