CORPUS CHRISTI – A bill aimed at reducing conflicts between wind turbines and military radars won’t be passed during this legislative session.
Supporters said it would protect military bases where radars are being fooled by nearby wind farms, making it harder to keep track of airplanes. Opponents contended it would add an unnecessary layer of bureaucracy and hurt Texas’ position as the leading wind energy state.
The bill passed the Senate but was never debated in the House.
“The industry did get a lot of people involved to fight the legislation,” said Rep. Joe Pickett, D-El Paso, who sponsored the bill.
Pickett said he’ll study the issue between sessions and it likely will resurface in 2013. He said he tried to keep the legislation narrow enough that it wouldn’t burden the industry with new permitting requirements. The bill’s supporters wanted to balance the concerns of the military without hampering the industry, he said.
Debate over the radar issue underscored the growth of an industry that, compared to other energy sectors, largely has gone unregulated by state government. During the past decade, some wildlife and property rights advocates have made repeated calls for checks on wind development.
Senate Bill 497 would have required wind developers to notify the Public Utility Commission of planned construction or expansion of wind turbines within 25 miles of military installations and at least 120 days before construction. Projects couldn’t begin until the Federal Aviation Administration determined there was no hazard to air traffic.
The federal requirement is in place, but military personnel have said they weren’t always notified promptly about new wind projects. According to an analysis by the House Research Organization, the FAA regulation is not enforceable and would affect only project financing.
The wind industry has argued that if a notified military base raised a concern about a turbine, construction would stop until the issue was resolved.
Patrick Woodson, development officer for E.ON Climate and Renewables, owner of the Papalote Creek wind farm in San Patricio County, testified in committee hearings that planning for a wind energy project takes more than a year. Financing depends on the FAA’s no-hazard determination, so developers must get the FAA approval well in advance, providing time for military bases to raise objections, Woodson said.
Rudy Garza, intergovernmental relations director for Corpus Christi, said he will ask a House committee to study the issue between legislative sessions.
“One of our key federal issues is to support the military and protect our naval base pretty much at all costs,” Garza said.
Capt. Mark McLaughlin, commanding officer of Naval Air Station Kingsville, said the bill’s failure does not mean military bases won’t be protected. He said the legislative process had drawn more public awareness.
“It’s unfortunate that Texas could not pass their own bill to take care of the bases in their own state, but I believe the smart people around here will figure out a way to have compatible siting of wind turbines without jeopardizing the Navy’s mission here at Kingsville,” McLaughlin said.
Moving wind turbine blades can mimic aircraft on radars, and large wind farms can create false images that span miles on radar screens. Blocking out the false returns prevents controllers from seeing real aircraft in the blocked areas.
Companies that build radar hardware and software are working on solutions, but implementation may be years away.
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