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Texas House limits tax breaks for wind turbines near military bases

A proposal to restrict property tax exemptions for wind farms near military bases got preliminary approval from Texas House lawmakers on Monday.

In a win for budget hawks and a small blow to the wind turbine industry, House members approved Senate Bill 277 76-65.

Rep. James Frank, R-Wichita Falls, who carried the bill in the House, argued the measure was necessary to limit the tall wind turbines as a threat to military exercises.

The turbines “create more risks for those bases,” he told members.

Bill author Sen. Donna Campbell, R-New Braunfels, argued earlier this session that the military installations are too valuable to the state’s economy to be hindered by the wind farms.

“Our military installations provide a $135 billion boost to the economy and are responsible for employing over 800,000 Texans directly and indirectly,” Campbell said in a news release. “Losing military missions due to wind farms negatively affects the long-term viability of these bases, and we cannot allow that to happen.”

But Jeff Clark, executive director of the Austin-based Wind Coalition, said there is “already a robust process” for vetting the siting of wind turbines near military installations.

Lurking in the background of the bill was a controversial tax exemption.

The tax exemption program is meant to attract new business to rural parts of the state.

The Legislature passed the Texas Economic Development Act in 2001 because, according to the law’s advocates, the state’s heavy reliance on property taxes was making it difficult to attract large industrial projects, for which property taxes are a major expense.

But over the last decade the focus of the program has shifted to renewable energy companies, most of them wind projects.

Many state officials say the program has been a success, creating jobs in strapped regions of the state, but others have called it corporate welfare, saying the relatively small number of jobs created aren’t worth the taxpayer expense.

The House is likely to give final approval to the measure on Tuesday; following Senate approval of a minor amendment, the bill is likely to go to the governor to be signed into law.