A proposed new wind farm in Clay County has sparked concern and opposition from some residents, and now, Sheppard Air Force Base is expressing concern and caution.
Base officials say the location of the new turbines could interfere with flight training because of its proximity to flight paths and also possible interference with radar.
The main concern is for the safety of their pilots and the impact wind farms have on the radar when tracking the aircraft.
And they are informing residents and the wind farm company that if the wind farm is built, not only would pilot safety be at risk but so could the Euro-NATO Joint Jet Training Program that’s been at Sheppard for 35 years.
“What makes us special is we teach our Euro-NATO Joint Jet Pilot Training Program here where 13 nations from our Euro-NATO partners come to train,” said Lt. Col. Mitchell Cok. “Some of them exclusively train their fighter pilots here. It’s the only base in the world that does that kind of training.”
But now, the base says that entire mission is at stake if a new wind farm is built in Clay County.
One primary concern raised is that air traffic controllers use radar to track each jet, and a swirling windmill blade could interfere with the radar waves, making it difficult to know where each aircraft is.
“There’s a potential that if the wind farms do go in at the range and the distance away from the base, we won’t be able to de-conflict the aircraft when they fly over or around this area,” said 80th Flying Training Wing commander, Col. Greg Keeton. “They’ll essentially be a blind spot for our radars.”
“Our primary concern is wind farms inside 25 miles and that’s where it starts to have a really big impact to the base,” Lt. Col. Cok said. “If we can’t see those aircraft, we can’t keep them separated and we can’t ensure safety of flight. So we’re trying to get the word out so people know as they’re making decisions about where to put wind farms.”
Lt. Col. Cok and Col. Keeton both don’t want to see these long-time missions put in jeopardy of being moved to another base where wind farms do not post a risk.
“The Air Force has to do a cost-benefit analysis to take a look at how it will affect our training mission and if there is other places where it can be done easier,” Lt. Col. Cok said. “Especially if encroachment, especially wind farms, begin to impact our ability to do the mission.”
At least one Clay County Commissioner, John McGregor of Precinct 3, said that he is opposed to adding more wind farms in Clay County.