Local and federal officials are hoping to head off future encroachment issues as the expanding wind energy industry creeps toward the Dyess Air Force Base flight path.
U.S. Rep. Randy Neugebauer, R-Lubbock, is hosting a meeting at Dyess Tuesday for representatives from the city of Abilene, Taylor and Nolan counties, the Department of Defense, the Department of Energy and the Federal Aviation Administration.
At stake is the future coexistence of two major economic players in the Abilene area – Dyess and the burgeoning wind energy industry.
Josh Noland, communications director for Neugebauer, said the congressman frequently hears about the encroachment issue when visiting with representatives from Dyess and the wind industry.
”I think the idea is to get everyone in one room, talk about the issues and see if we can move forward,” Noland said.
The meeting is closed to the public and media. Noland said in an e-mail that the decision was made to close the meeting ”in the interest of having a free-flowing, open discussion by all the participants.”
Taylor County Judge George Newman said he became concerned about wind farms encroaching on Dyess a couple of years ago. Two wind energy companies – FPL and Gamesa – both wanted to develop 6,000 acres of land that happened to be in the Dyess flight path.
Both those companies were agreeable to dropping plans for that area, but Newman said the issue might come up again.
”What if we have a company that isn’t good to work with?” he asked.
The best solution, Newman believes, is to have the federal government deny tax credits to wind energy developers if they try to build near a national defense base. The current federal energy bill, which contains tax credits for wind energy development, expires at the end of 2008, and Newman said he hopes the new bill will contain the threat of withholding tax credits.
Counties also offer incentives to wind energy developers, but that money doesn’t come close to the federal tax credits, Newman said. Withholding county incentives alone wouldn’t be enough to deter building in an airbase flight path if a company wanted to, he said.
”We have no way of keeping them out of the encroachment zone,” but the federal government can help, he said.
Newman said the issue is complex because other counties in this area that are attracting wind farms need the additional income. They aren’t as fortunate as Taylor County with Dyess AFB in its back yard, he noted.
One of those counties is Nolan, which also is dotted with wind turbines. County Judge Tim Fambrough said he can understand the need for keeping the large three-bladed turbines away from the flight path, but he thinks the Air Force should be reasonable in its requests for space.
”That’s what I’m going to tell them if I get the opportunity,” Fambrough said.
Representing the wind energy at the meeting will be Greg Wortham of Sweetwater, executive director of the West Texas Wind Energy Consortium. Wortham sees the meeting as an opportunity to clear out roadblocks before developers spend money and before lease agreements are signed with landowners.
Encroachment is an issue that was stressed by the 2005 Base Realignment and Closure Commission, said Abilene Mayor Norm Archibald, who plans to attend Tuesday’s meeting. Dyess, unlike some other bases, was spared downsizing or closure by the BRAC commission.
But if encroachment should become a problem at Dyess, that might affect future BRAC decisions. Celia Davis, who chairs the Abilene Chamber of Commerce’s Military Affairs Committee, said encroachment is a problem for bases across the nation as cities grow.
She plans to attend Tuesday’s meeting and is expecting a positive outcome. She said people from other parts of the country want to hear what local officials are doing to protect Dyess so they can use those ideas in their cities.
”I don’t think it’s indicative we have any problems at all,” Davis said.
By Loretta Fulton
26 May 2007
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