CORPUS CHRISTI – A bill that would give military installations more advance notice about wind farm developments passed the state Senate this week, but measures that would impose new permitting regulations on the wind industry may have a steeper climb.
Industry leaders say turbines have proliferated in Texas, the nation’s leading wind energy state, largely because of its unrestrictive regulatory environment and because of state laws that require electricity providers to use renewable energy or buy renewable energy credits.
But supporters of the bills have said there isn’t enough public notice ahead of wind turbine construction, and that wind farms pop up on the landscape without opportunities to object.
Officials at Naval Air Station Kingsville have led the charge for new notice requirements, saying wind farms, which look like storms or aircraft on radars, could hamper the base’s mission to train jet pilots. The wind industry opposes new requirements, saying the Federal Aviation Administration already gives the military opportunities to stop projects that interfere with bases.
At least four bills filed this session would enact new regulations for the wind industry in Texas. The bill that passed the Senate on Monday requires wind farm developers to notify the state’s Public Utility Commission 120 days before construction on projects within 20 miles of a military base. The commission would then notify the base. Developers could face fines if they don’t comply.
The bill was authored by Sen. Mike Jackson, R-La Porte, and includes provisions from a separate bill by Juan “Chuy” Hinojosa, D-McAllen. It has not been heard in the House.
Another bill, by Rep. J.M. Lozano, D-Kingsville, requires advance notice to bases but also gives the Public Utility Commission the authority to issue permits for wind farms. The bill applies only to Kleberg County. Lozano’s bill was left pending in committee and may remain there if lawmakers don’t warm to new permitting requirements.
Dick Messbarger, director of the Kingsville Economic Development Council, told the House Energy Resources Committee on Wednesday that Kingsville has one of two bases nationwide that train pilots to land on aircraft carriers; the other is Naval Air Station Meridian in Mississippi.
He said wind farm conflicts could factor in the next round of base closures and lead the Navy to move its operations to Meridian.
“We’re not willing to risk this important economic driver on our current FAA regulations,” he said.
But Paul Sadler, director of the Texas Wind Coalition, said the Navy already can stop wind projects through the FAA.
“A half-billion-dollar project – are you going to go build it without FAA approval next to a military base or an airport knowing that if it’s found to be hazard, you have to tear it all down?”
Capt. Mark McLaughlin of NAS Kingsville said the FAA isn’t required to notify him of wind projects more than 10 miles from the base. Turbines in Kenedy County, about 23 miles away, already show up on radar. The Navy adjusted its radar equipment to block out the wind farm, but it also can’t see aircraft in that area, Navy officials said.
Sadler, a former Democratic state representative from East Texas, said state officials don’t have the information or expertise to intervene in airspace issues.
Patrick Woodson, chief development officer for E.ON Climate and Renewables, owner of the Papalote Creek wind farm in San Patricio County, said some of the wind farm bills are so broad they would affect 2,000 square miles of land near military bases across the state. That would be an unprecedented hurdle for the industry in Texas, he said.
“These are extremely complicated issues that require a great deal of study, and we have a good referee in the FAA right now,” he said.
READ THE BILLS
Sen. Mike Jackson’s bill:
Rep. J.M. Lozano’s bill:
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