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Face the wind and its significant challenges

Wind energy leaves a footprint, too. The footprint of a single tower with blades and foundation is roughly 400 feet tall and half an acre. This footprint has been downplayed in the zeal for developing so-called clean, renewable sources of energy.

Wind leaves a footprint in other significant ways, as Mark Collette reported in Sunday’s Caller-Times. The turbines pose serious difficulties for weather forecasting, air travel safety and military aviation training. Radar misreads them as flying aircraft or dangerous storms. Several daily cries of wolf clog warning systems.

Further encroachment by wind farms is hard to predict because the rules for establishing them are tilted toward protecting wind companies from competitive disadvantage. The focus of the rules is on helping the industry lock up leases, at the expense of those whose best interests are not served by having a wind farm as a neighbor. Even federal authorities – including the Navy, with all its resources for finding out information of a tell-you-but-have-to-kill-you nature – can be kept in the dark about a wind energy company’s plans.

The proliferation of wind energy projects has raised concerns about the long-term viability of Naval Air Station Kingsville’s mission to train aviators. In an attempt to protect the Navy base, state Sen. Juan “Chuy” Hinojosa, D-McAllen, and state Rep. J.M. Lozano, D-Kingsville, filed a bill to require notification of plans to build turbines within 25 miles of a military installation. The industry views it as an unnecessary layer of bureaucracy.

The industry is only trying to protect its interests and we’re not trying to brand it a villain. We’re just pointing out that the wind industry is like the rest of us – profit- or livelihood-motivated, looking out for Number One. We’re also pointing out that it’s an industry, producing and marketing a product for sales, not a Kumbaya-singing public service group aiming to save the world from environmental disaster.

It’s also not an industry that would stand on its own without government protections and subsidies.

But it’s also a new and already significant addition to the South Texas economy. It has brought huge revenue through the Port of Corpus Christi and to landowners who continue to farm or ranch around the turbines. The industry has brought new jobs. It has provided emissions-free energy and it has established South Texas as a source of yet another form of energy.

It’s here, it’s big and it’s in the region’s interest to find solutions that allow the industry to continue to develop – but without grounding planes, causing false tornado alerts or chasing off the Navy. As one industry official told Collette – not in these words – it’s not as if the industry is sneaking around trying to plant wind farms in the worst locations for aviation. There is room for coexistence and compromise.

The challenges of developing wind energy – and of coexisting with it – should lead to technological advancement as has space exploration. Radar is at its core a World War II technology. Maybe aircraft- and weather-detecting will move beyond it rather than to its next generation. Maybe next-generation equipment for capturing wind energy will require a lot less steel and concrete. We would hope so because the current construction materials-to-generated electricity ratio is way out of whack.

Back to our original point – wind leaves a footprint. They all do. Wind’s is too big to ignore and the dinosaur’s has been exaggerated.