A bill that would prohibit wind energy companies from receiving tax benefits if developing a wind farm within 25 miles of a military aviation base in Texas passed its final hurdle with the House and is on its way back to the Senate, where it originated, but with some additional baggage.
Wichita Falls Republican Rep. James Frank, who introduced an identical bill to Sen. Donna Campbell’s Senate Bill 277, said a couple of amendments were added to the legislation, including one that would provide protections for projects underway. Frank said Campbell can accept the bill with the amendments, and then it moves on to Gov. Greg Abbott’s desk, or the senator can reject and send it to a conference committee of five senators and five representatives to hash out the differences.
SB 277 passed overwhelmingly, 134-10. Two representatives present chose not to vote on the issue, and four were absent.
The House and Senate bills were filed to protect military bases from encroachment issues as it relates to airspace near an air base and the possible effects the wind turbine technology could have on radar equipment.
Clay County-based Horn Wind LLC has plans on the books to develop two wind farms in that county, one near Byers in the north section of the county, and Bluegrove to the south.
“Keep in mind, just because they don’t get the 313 (tax credits) doesn’t mean they’re not going to build there,” Frank said. “It doesn’t stop them from building. It just stops them from using state funds.”
Opponents of the legislation have debunked claims by the military of radar interference and other possible hazards, including a retired Air Force colonel who, while on active duty, fought wind companies wanting to develop projects near Air Force bases and later became a consultant in the industry.
Jimmy Horn, owner of Horn Wind, said in a Times Record News article published on July 8 that Virginia-based Capital Airspace Group determined that the proposed wind developments would have minimal impact on Sheppard Air Force Base and its flying training mission except for one specific training path for student pilots.
Sheppard officials have said the impact is greater as the wind energy equipment could interfere with radar and possibly reduce the number of training days in the Euro-NATO Joint Jet Pilot Training program.
Glenn Barham, president of the Sheppard Military Affairs Committee and former Wichita Falls mayor, said he was in Austin on Tuesday to support the legislation. With the amendments added and the unknown of whether Campbell will accept or decline the amended bill, the “drop-dead date” to have SB 277 out of committee in the Senate and conference committee, if required, would be Friday. That would allow a vote to take place on Sunday, if needed, the last day legislation can be voted on for the 85th Texas Legislature.
He said it’s a waiting game from this point on. He said in his capacity with the SMAC, he can’t lobby for votes one way or the other, but he can explain and educate lawmakers on potential impact a wind farm could have on Sheppard’s mission.