In Texas, we value our military and the role military bases serve our communities. According to the governor's Texas Military Preparedness Commission, they contribute more than $136 billion annually to our economy.
Our military is among the leading industries in the state, and as vital to Texas as the $170 billion oil and gas industry, according to Texas Comptroller calculations, and the $100 billion economic impact provided by agriculture.
The 15 military installations spread across Texas help keep us secure and employ almost 900,000 Texans, both directly and indirectly, according to the governor's commission.
In hearings last summer, military officials told the Veteran Affairs Committee about concerns that wind turbines could impact their ability to fulfill their missions. Elected officials from Wichita Falls, Kingsville and Corpus Christi expressed the need for legislation to protect their local economies from the negative consequences encroaching wind farms could have on their communities and the state.
I authored Senate Bill 277 to protect our bases from encroaching wind turbines that put military jobs and communities in jeopardy, and the bill passed the Senate on Wednesday. The bill is narrowly tailored to prohibit tax abatements for wind farms when new turbines are within 30 nautical miles of a Texas aviation facility. Abatements for existing wind turbines are grandfathered in, and by emphasizing fixed-wing airfields, the bill only affects potential wind farms around five military installations in the entire state.
The Texas Commanders Council said incompatibly sited wind turbines can cause interference with critical radar systems and create safety risks.
What's more, the height and location affect the altitude of flights. It is important to encourage wind farm development in areas where military training and mission readiness will not be disrupted.
Over half of all Navy and Marine Corps pilots train at Naval Air Station Kingsville. Sheppard Air Force Base in Wichita Falls trains thousands of Air Force and NATO pilots. The commanders and military officials at these bases were some of the first to alert us to issues wind turbines pose to pilot training.
We must do everything we can to protect our military communities from the next round of base closures. With 15 military installations in Texas, our state has a huge target on its back. If encroaching wind farms make it harder to meet training goals, Texas will have to surrender jobs and missions to other states where wind turbines do not pose a problem. That would be a devastating blow to the cities that have developed around our bases, and I have no plans to surrender such assets.
Fortunately, neither do my colleagues. The bill is co-authored by Democrats and Republicans, including the senators who represent Naval Air Station Kingsville and Corpus Christi, as well as Sheppard Air Force Base. A companion bill has also been introduced in the House by Rep. James Frank, who represents Sheppard Air Force Base.
It does not make sense to use taxpayer dollars to subsidize an activity that threatens our military mission, our jobs and our economy in such a drastic manner. When compared side by side, military installations are responsible for around 240,000 direct jobs while the American Wind Energy Association can only point to 1,100 jobs they've created in the entire state, an abysmal number given the nearly $2 billion in property tax exemptions wind farms have received that would have gone to our schools, according to Texas Comptroller calculations.
Given the vastness of Texas, wind farms and military bases should be able to co-exist. There is plenty of wide open space for wind turbines where there is no chance of interfering with military training. To hear the wind farms say they can't, while demanding subsidies, is simply not very neighborly.
State Sen. Donna Campbell, R-New Braunfels, is chairwoman of the Senate Committee on Veteran Affairs and Border Security.