The Altus Chamber of Commerce wants Oklahoma lawmakers to give a state military commission siting approval for wind farms near military installations, saying the turbines can affect radar and disrupt training routes.
The chamber of commerce sent letters last week to two Altus lawmakers, Senate Pro Tempore Mike Schulz and Rep. Charles Ortega. The chamber wants lawmakers to put notice and siting approval of wind turbines near military installations under the Oklahoma Strategic Military Planning Commission.
"When constructed without input from the military community, the presence of wind energy facilities inhibits critical radar capabilities and disrupts low-level flying routes used for aircrew training," said the letter, a copy of which was obtained by The Oklahoman. "These issues pose a very real threat to our military installations, especially as Congress continues to weigh the possibility of Base Realignment and Closure in the future."
Brian Bush, president and CEO of the Altus chamber, said his group's proposal is in the early stages. Altus Air Force Base is responsible for about 5,000 jobs and $350 million in annual economic impact to the area, he said.
"We want to provide this kind of protection to our military assets, but we don't want to be seen as working against the wind industry," Bush said.
He said base officials and economic developers already have informal discussions with wind representatives about siting turbines. The chamber's proposal would formalize that under the Oklahoma Strategic Military Planning Commission, which includes representatives from every military installation in the state. The commission meets monthly in Oklahoma City.
A spokesman for Schulz deferred comment to the base. Ortega could not be reached for comment.
Altus Air Force Base currently trains crews of the C-17 military transport plane and the KC-135 tanker. The base has been chosen as a training site for crews of the KC-46 Pegasus, a new aerial refueling plane that will replace the KC-135.
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The Defense Department has a "siting clearinghouse" that coordinates planning for energy infrastructure projects like wind turbines, solar towers and transmission lines near installations. Its latest report to Congress showed 49 projects in Oklahoma in the review process in 2014, including 19 wind turbines. All the Oklahoma projects passed review.
Jeff Clark, president of The Wind Coalition, a regional trade group, said the federal clearinghouse is the best place to address turbines near military installations. He said past mitigation efforts have included splitting a south Texas wind farm in half to preserve a mile-wide training corridor and curtailing wind turbines at certain times at the request of the military.
"The federal clearinghouse is very stringent and based on technical analysis," Clark said. "As great as wind is for communities, the military base and the mission has to be the first priority. The clearinghouse isn't set up to balance the needs of the developer and the military, it's set up to protect the military base."
Nationally, Texas Republican Sen. John Cornyn has filed legislation that would provide a 30-mile turbine buffer around military airfields. Any developments inside that zone would be ineligible for federal tax credits for the wind industry.
Bush, with the Altus chamber, said his group is aware of the Cornyn legislation but hasn't yet reached out to Oklahoma's congressional delegation to discuss it. He said a 30-mile radius may be too inflexible.
"We're trying to find the least intrusive means to provide this protection," Bush said. "We don't want to do something that's detrimental to industry and the wind industry. When we sit down with the wind folks, 'not here, but there' is the phrase we like to use to highlight other opportunities for them."
The American Wind Energy Association said more than a third of current wind turbines fall within 50 miles of a military exclusion zone proposed by other federal legislation.
"These arbitrary buffer zones unnecessarily put at risk tens of billions of dollars of private investment in rural America, restrict the energy development activities of private companies, prohibit private citizens from leasing their land for wind turbines, and do nothing to enhance national security," the national wind association said in a recent fact sheet.