Kingsville city officials are opposing a planned wind farm near Riviera over fears that the turbines would interfere military radar, but a Navy base commander said he is pleased with steps the developer took to reduce conflicts.
Defense budget cuts have renewed worries that installations in the Coastal Bend could be shuttered in the next round of base closures. Kingsville officials are trying to prevent turbine developments that would make Naval Air Station Kingsville less attractive as a training ground for pilots.
The city council voted 5-0 Monday for a resolution opposing the Riviera wind project in hopes of protecting the base that, by city estimates, pumps $400 million a year into the local economy.
But the commander of the Kingsville base said project developers closely have worked with the Navy to minimize impacts to radar and the turbines should not affect the base’s mission.
“Wind turbines are not going to BRAC this base,” said Capt. Mark McLaughlin, using the acronym for Base Realignment and Closure, the government’s process of periodically reassessing its inventory of military installations. “I just don’t see it happening.”
McLaughlin has spoken at public meetings and testified before a state legislative committee on the impact of turbines on radar, saying encroachment of turbines near military bases could reduce flights and impair the Navy’s ability to carry out its mission of training pilots for aircraft carriers. Turbines can block radar signals, creating swaths of airspace in which planes cannot be detected.
But in the case of the Riviera project, McLaughlin said the developer approached the Navy early and worked with the military to develop a plan to space the turbines in a pinwheel pattern that could minimize radar disruption. The Navy and the developer, Texas Wind Group, are slated to sign an agreement next month detailing the steps that will be taken to prevent interference, an occasion McLaughlin said is unprecedented.
“It is really a big leap for both of us,” he said. “They could have just built. They didn’t have to tell me anything.”
McLaughlin cautioned that wind farm developments carry risks to the military, and the impact of a turbine can’t be known until it is built. He believes a combination of technical advances by radar manufacturers, paired with cooperation from the wind industry, will allow wind farms and military bases to coexist.
Local officials are not so confident, and they say the military has changed its tone because of direction from up the chain of command.
“The Navy says they’ve come up with a solution, but they really haven’t,” Kingsville Mayor Sam Fugate said. “It’s uniform Navy being told to stand down by civilian Navy. The Obama administration pretty much says green energy is more important than military preparedness.”
Naval Air Station Corpus Christi and the Corpus Christi Army Depot are just as susceptible to closure, Fugate warned.
While local political leaders haven’t panicked, the failure of Congress to agree on cutting $1.2 trillion from the federal budget by 2021 means lawmakers of both parties may have less say in spending. Local leaders are considering reconvening the South Texas Military Affairs Task Force to guard against base closures.
As a GOP budget proposal came under attack from the left and right this week, there were few signs that Washington will reach a compromise. That means automatic cuts could begin Jan. 1, forcing the Pentagon to cut $500 billion over 10 years in addition to $487 billion in budgeted reductions.
Fugate said Kingsville can’t afford not to assume that budget cuts and wind farm encroachment could spell doom for the base. The city is even setting aside money for litigation to stop wind farms, he said.
Dru Steubing, managing member of the Texas Wind Group, said Kingsville officials have gotten people so riled up about the Riviera project that they’re not considering asking for tax abatements from area counties, cities or school districts, a rare move for wind developers.
The future of the project, like most other wind farms across the nation, hinges on Congressional renewal of the production tax credits that subsidize wind energy, and on the confidence of investors, Steubing said.
The Texas Wind Group approached the military about the project as early as 2009, he said. Wind farm developments generally don’t become public knowledge until closer to construction.
“It’s really sad because if (local leaders) stop this project or others that take the time to do it right, that would be a big shame for those landowners down there,” Steubing said.
Texas Wind Group proposes installing 60 to 80 turbines with a combined capacity of 135 megawatts, enough to power more than 40,000 homes at peak production.
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