Wind energy development in Kansas is facing less military resistance than similar efforts on the West Coast, largely because of effective coordination between developers and government agencies, an Army attorney said Monday.
Speaking to the Joint Committee on Kansas Security, Stanley Rasmussen praised a law approved this year that requires city and county leaders to meet annually with military officials to discuss activities taking place on Army and Air Force bases.
He said most of the best areas in Kansas for wind development are far from regular flight patterns for military aircraft near training areas and installations.
“So far it hasn’t been a major issue,” said Rasmussen, regional counsel for the office of the assistant secretary of the Army.
Rasmussen said aside from the chances of aircraft hitting the turbines, there are also issues of radar signals being blocked by turbines. The blades can block, reflect or diffuse the radar signals, impeding the ability to track aircraft. The problem has been a factor in the Pentagon’s concerns about development of more than 1,200 turbines in Oregon and Washington.
Changes in radar technology and modifications to the wind proposals are allowing six of the farms to go forward.
The Flint Hills are considered among the best places in Kansas for wind farms because of existing power transmission lines.
The Army’s Fort Riley is in the Flint Hills, outside Junction City. Also, McConnell Air Force Base, near Wichita, and the Great Plains Joint Training Center, outside Salina, are near the Flint Hills.
The Army’s 1st Combat Aviation Brigade is based at Fort Riley and uses a variety of combat and cargo helicopters to move soldiers and equipment.
Sen. Jay Emler, a Lindsborg Republican and chairman of the security panel, said he wanted the briefing to make legislators mindful of the potential conflicts as the state pushes for more wind development with existing military operations.
“There are consequences to all of our actions,” Emler said.
The military raised concerns that construction of the turbines could interfere with radar used to detect incoming missiles and aircraft approaching the United States from the west. The project was delayed for further review, but ultimately allowed to go forward.
Military officials became aware of the project when a notice was filed with the Federal Aviation Administration alerting that the construction could affect air traffic. Rasmussen said the Pentagon doesn’t issue permits for wind farm or other construction that could affect operations, nor does it seek that authority.
Rasmussen said Kansas legislators didn’t need to take any action now to regulate development or add another layer to the permitting process to avoid conflicts with wind turbines.
“I don’t know that it’s really necessary. If we just have good coordination early on, we don’t need to have more permitting,” he said.
Rasmussen said Kansas air space was used not just by aircraft and military based in the state but by units located in Missouri, Texas, Colorado, North Dakota and South Dakota, as well as aircraft from Canada, which will stay several days or weeks at a time in Salina.
“We don’t want to lose that as part of our economic development portfolio,” Emler said.
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