Local leaders and landowners agree that wind energy projects will be vital to New Mexico’s economy, but a hindrance in getting these projects off the ground is the possible interference with radars at Cannon Air Force Base and area airports.
Community members spoke with representatives of the Federal Aviation Administration about the FAA’s impact studies and how they affect the approval of local wind energy projects Tuesday at the Local Growth Management Committee meeting at the Clovis-Carver Library.
Although other issues such as the privatization of base housing at Cannon and the Ute pipeline project were raised, the discussion regarding the FAA’s impact studies of wind energy projects dominated the first hour-and-a-half of the meeting.
Cannon officials and FAA employees conduct studies on proposed projects to evaluate the impact it may have on the military and civilian aircraft.
The FAA requires notification of construction on a project 45 days prior to the start date of construction. Its biggest concern is aircraft radars identifying turbines as targets, which can pose a danger to flights.
“One of the complaints was that a wind energy project (Broadview Energy) was delayed north of Clovis and people were feeling that Cannon was trying to stop the project, but they were not,” said LGMC Chairman Caleb Chandler.
But landowners and local representatives were still questioning why such projects have either been delayed or killed. According to John McDonald, a representative for Cannon, no ruling has been issued yet in the approval of Broadview Energy’s project.
“When I evaluate a case, we have to evaluate based on impact of our mission,” McDonald said.
With the exception of Broadview Energy, other land association representatives attended the meeting to better understand the process when they propose wind energy projects.
“Let’s say we got an adverse impact statement on (a project) and the repeal was unsuccessful, what is the worst-case scenario for the wind developer?” asked Chandler.
An FAA official responded that if the project presented a hazard, wind developers may have a hard time securing insurance for the project.
“They’re going to be a little more reluctant to insure,” said an FAA official.
Though it seemed like FAA officials were providing dead ends to project inquiries, they did advise wind developers to work with the Department of Defense and the FAA on projects early on so issues can be avoided.
Raymond Mondragon with the Eastern Plains Council of Governments said wind energy is important to the economic prosperity of New Mexico.
“It’s important in creating jobs and it provides subsidies for farmers,” Mondragon said.
FAA officials stressed to Mondragon and others that early and frequent communication with Cannon and the DOD is important.
“If you work early with them on the process, they can give you an idea to what’s least impactful to military radar and aviation,” an FAA official said.
“(Cannon) is not here to stop any project,” McDonald added.
State Sen. Pat Woods, R-Clovis, said his biggest concern was that the government was interfering with private property.
“I represent seven counties in New Mexico and all seven are looking to create some form of wind energy,” Woods said. “It boils down to a private property rights issue.”
Woods added that though he is supportive of the military, he feels the area is being set up for a loss if landowners cannot get insurance for their projects based on the FAA’s findings.
“This is about property rights and this is what this country was founded on,” Woods said. “It really disturbs me.”
Landowner Elmer White was especially concerned with certain production tax credits provided being time sensitive. He asked the FAA as well as Cannon to give reports in a timely manner.
“A project possibly got killed because of those time constraints,” White said. “I’d like for decisions to made expeditiously. It’s a big impact on us, it’s going to affect a lot of people here.”
An FAA official said the issue with wind energy farms usually lies in the turbines reflecting the radars though she expressed their desire to coexist with such wind projects and coming up with solutions to prevent those problems.
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