A study on how wind farms could affect Naval Air Stations Corpus Christi and Kingsville and Corpus Christi International Airport has been released.
The South Texas Wind Farm Cumulative Impact Analysis was conducted to convey raw data on the impacts of wind turbines to aviation radar. The impact would depend on the location of the turbines in relation to Navy flight operations, according to the report which was prepared by Space and Naval Warfare Systems Center Atlantic.
The study was finalized in August and revised Sept. 12.
The data will be analyzed to further determine the impact to aviation flight safety, and more analysis will be needed to see what measures need to be taken to avoid problems that could arise from turbine use in this area, the report states.
A week after the study was finalized, U.S. Sen. John Cornyn introduced a bill called “Protection of Military Airfields from Wind Turbine Encroachment Act” on Sept. 28 which would apply only to new projects.
“No one is talking about banning wind turbines, but we do have to be careful when we talk about their proximity” to bases, said Cornyn, R-Texas, in October.
In early December, local leaders and stakeholders received the study. The report said a close proximity to wind turbines could impact air traffic control radars and reduce target detection or cause false targets to appear on the radar. The secondary radar systems that track aircraft with active transponders were not affected.
The Chapman Ranch 86-turbine wind farm project, which was sold to Enbridge by Apex Clean Energy earlier this year, has long been a concern for local leaders, including the Corpus Christi City Council and Nueces County commissioners.
Michael Barnes, spokesperson for Enbridge, said the report does not reach any new conclusions regarding the wind farm project, and will not impact existing approvals for the project or modify a memorandum signed last year between the project, the Department of Defense and the U.S. Navy.
“The Memorandum Agreement provides for the implementation of certain mitigation efforts and operational controls that address the risk identified by the U.S. Navy during its review of the project,” Barnes said in an email. “We believe this mitigation measures will prove effective and have begun working with the U.S. Navy to implement them.”
The analysis did not address whether the turbines were obstructions to area navigation. A “radar tool box” was used in the study using radar returns of existing turbines.
Predicted impacts include a reduction of probability of detection (radar) of 17 percent to 86 percent before any mitigation measures are taken. However those measures may not eliminate the radar reduction, the study says.
The primary area of impact would be directly over the wind farm from the tip of the blades to approximately 5,000 feet, which is where long-range radars provide coverage at times, the study says.
“The presence of non-cooperating aircraft in Navy operating airspace where primary radar is degraded poses a risk to naval aviation safety,” the report reads. “If the degradation is determined to be unacceptable, the Navy will have to mitigate the loss of radar performance in order to avoid negative impacts to naval aviation activities in South Texas.”
The Navy has identified possible negative impacts from the wind farms, which are considered “renewable energy development,” and will seek to implement “several mitigation measures to address degraded performance of primary radar for air traffic control.” These could include radar fusion, implementation of special air traffic rules in South Texas, radar system performance upgrades and potentially the acquisition of replacement or in-fill radars, according to the report.
“Enbridge and the U.S. Navy will be part of an ongoing working group, so that we can work together to resolve any issues that may arise,” Barnes said. “Once operational next year, Chapman Ranch will provide Texas with clean, reliable, affordable electricity while also producing economic benefits for the community and Nueces County landowners.”
Texas ranks first in the nation for both installed and under-construction wind capacity, while also supporting more than 24,000 wind-related jobs. The state is home to at least 40 manufacturing facilities and numerous component suppliers, and its wind energy industry has provided nearly $33 billion in capital investment, according to win energy association.
Caller-Times staff writer Chris Ramirez contributed to this report.