CORPUS CHRISTI – A proposed wind farm in the Chapman Ranch area is one of 20 projects that could cause problems for the military, according to a nationwide review of renewable energy projects conducted by the Department of Defense.
The finding, announced Thursday, could cause delays or threaten the viability of the entire Chapman Ranch project if the developer and the military can’t find a solution. A smaller project near Freer also is on the Pentagon’s list of objectionable wind farms.
Wind turbines dupe military, weather and commercial aviation radars into displaying false images on radar screens, sometimes in locations miles from the turbines. Military officials say technical solutions to the problem are, at best, years away from being implemented.
For individual wind farms, the conflicts with area radars can sometimes be solved by changing the way turbines are oriented.
The Chapman Ranch project involves 114 wind turbines reaching heights of 460 feet, according to the information from the Pentagon.
The project was originally owned by Houston-based Element Markets, which in 2010 announced it was selling the project to London-based International Power. Company officials could not be reached for comment.
Capt. Mark McLaughlin, commanding officer of Naval Air Station Kingsville, has been a vocal advocate for new regulations that would require wind developers to notify military installations of their plans further in advance.
He said he was unsure of the exact location of the Chapman Ranch project, but it ranges from Chapman Ranch to near Corpus Christi’s Southside.
Texas rapidly became the leading wind energy state, in part due to a relaxed regulatory environment that supports competition by letting projects advance without giving public notice until the developer requests a connection to the state’s power grid, usually months before construction.
The Chapman Ranch project developer has yet to request a connection, according to documents from the Electric Reliability Council of Texas, the agency that collects information on new power projects.
The project drew scrutiny in 2009, when area homeowners asked Nueces County commissioners to adopt a resolution calling for the state to establish permitting requirements for wind farms in rural areas. At the time, homeowners said the proposed turbines could ruin people’s views, decrease property values and later be abandoned. Other landowners like the royalties – about $5,000 a year for a typical turbine – and environmental benefits they say come with wind power.
Under current law, wind developers need only get permission to connect to the grid, and pass a review from the Federal Aviation Administration. There is no state permitting requirement for turbines.
The wind farm was one of only 20 projects out of 249 nationwide that wasn’t cleared in the recent Pentagon review. Also on the list is a proposed wind farm near Freer with 30 turbines reaching 429 feet.
For these projects, the Defense Department “will undertake further studies and negotiations with developers … to mitigate any potential adverse effects and allow the projects to move forward that are found to have little or no impact on military missions,” a Pentagon news release said.
According to information compiled from government and industry sources, developers are proposing new projects in the Coastal Bend that total at least 2,445 megawatts, which could mean 800 to 1,600 more turbines. Some will never be built for lack of financing or technical obstacles.