ERCOT, the not-for-profit organization operating the Texas electricity grid, wants to require some energy developers to notify the Department of Defense of upcoming projects before connecting to the power grid, according to testimony given in a legislative committee hearing in Wednesday.
An official with the Electric Reliability Council of Texas proposed the rule change to the Texas House of Representatives Defense and Veterans Affairs committee in Wichita Falls, where an air force base has become embroiled in a conflict with a local wind energy developer.
Sheppard Air Force Base has asserted that proposed wind developments in nearby Clay County would interfere with its radar operation and flight training missions. If erected, wind turbines in a 25-mile radius of the base could cause Sheppard's mission to be moved to another military installation, a move that likely would be a crippling blow to the Wichita Falls economy.
Plans for the Clay County wind projects already have been sent to the Federal Aviation Administration for its review.
Warren Lasher, ERCOT's director of planning, said he wants to see "increased coordination and communication" between the military and wind energy developers to resolve this and other, similar conflicts. He proposed a rule in which developers would be required to submit an affidavit to ERCOT showing they have informed the military of their intention to build an energy project before connecting to the state power grid.
"This will ensure that all energy developers check with DoD well before" any large-scale energy developments are put into motion, Lasher testified.
In the past, ERCOT has not intervened in energy connections because of concerns raised by the military, Lasher said. He added that the Office of Governor Greg Abbott requested that he make the rule proposal at the hearing.
The proposed rule reportedly would only affect developments that are not already connected to the power grid.
ERCOT spokeswoman Robbie Searcy told the Times Record News on Wednesday that the affidavit would be considered as a portion of its already existing vetting process, referred to as an "interconnection study." ERCOT will not complete its study without the affidavit, effectively halting the project, Searcy said.
A press secretary in Gov. Abbott's office told the newspaper it supported the proposed rule "to increase coordination between energy developers and military installations in order to avoid potential conflicts."
Wind energy currently accounts for about 10 percent of the power generated in Texas. Wind is the fourth largest contributor to the state's energy grid, ranking behind natural gas, coal and nuclear power.
Most energy developments that appear to conflict with military missions already are subject to review by the Department of Defense siting clearinghouse. A Times Record News review of cases assigned to the clearinghouse showed that the vast majority of projects are approved without any mitigating action.
"I understand there already are rules in place to have this review by the DoD, but this additional requirement in our planning process would establish a time frame in the process," Searcy said.
ERCOT stakeholders reviewed the proposed rule before it was presented to the House committee on Wednesday. Clearinghouse officials reportedly were present for that review via telephone. In October, the power grid's Board of Directors will take a vote on the proposal, Searcy said.
Discussion about wind energy development near military bases has intensified during the Texas Legislature's offseason. Rep.
James Frank (R-Wichita Falls) previously told the Times Record News he was considering filing a proposal that would place re on tax abatements for some wind energy projects near military bases.
In Corpus Christi, Sen. Donna Campbell (R-New Braunfels) said during a Senate committee meeting that she would consider intervening if an energy project endangered military missions.
Proposals on the subject may be put to a legislative vote when the Texas Legislature meets again in January.