Gov. Greg Abbott announced Friday a piece of legislation has been signed into law that prohibits tax incentives for wind energy projects within 25 miles of military aviation bases that use fixed-wing aircraft.
Senate Bill 277, authored by Sen. Donna Campbell (R-New Braunfels), was signed by the governor Thursday and announced during a ceremony in Corpus Christi Friday.
Wichita Falls Republican Rep. James Frank authored a version of the bill in the House, but it failed to make it to the Senate. The Senate version passed the Texas House with overwhelming support, 134-10. Two representatives chose not to vote on the bill.
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.
Frank said he felt assured the legislation would make it into law based on previous support by the governor on the initiative as well as reaction by the governor’s staff after the bill passed in the House. He wasn’t able to be in Corpus Christi to see the legislation get signed into law and was hopeful that action would take place at Sheppard Air Force Base, but he was equally excited, along with the nine military bases it will protect, that it is now law.
He said he is satisfied with the legislation that was sent to the governor for his signature even through it had gone though minor iterations.
“We had one amendment that was put on in the House that got pulled out in conference (committee),” he said, “but I wanted it pulled out in conference. So, it got back much closer to what we filed. There’s very little difference between what Sen. Campbell and I originally filed versus what passed.”
The law doesn’t prevent new development from being built within the 25-mile radius of the aviation bases, Frank said. What it does do, the legislator said, is it prevents wind energy developers from enjoying a more than 90-percent tax cut on those lands if they choose to build inside that area. Because of the complex tax formula to use, those cuts can reach 95 percent.
Frank said the 25-mile radius around the nine bases represents about 5 percent of all the land in the state.
“All we’re saying is if you’re going to build wind, please don’t build near military bases,” he said.
Wichita Falls Mayor Stephen Santellana applauded the law early Friday afternoon during an interview with the Times Record News.
“That’s the last piece of the puzzle,” he said. “That’s the last thing that needed to happen in order to protect our military installations. Truthfully, we think that’s going to be step one.”
Santellana said there could be more legislation in the future to protect military aviation bases from wind farm, including at the federal level. U.S. Sen. John Cornyn, R-Texas, has filed legislation that would prohibit new wind projects from benefiting from the Renewable Energy Production Tax Credit was well as the Investment Tax Credit if they were to develop a wind farm within a 30-mile radius of a military airfield.
The mayor said it’s a relief to know Sheppard Air Force Base is somewhat protected from wind energy development encroachment, but he wishes the law went a bit further. It is, however, a victory for Wichita Falls and Sheppard.
Glenn Barham, president of the Sheppard Military Affairs Committee and former Wichita Falls mayor, said the organization supported the efforts of the Texas Legislature and that of lawmakers in Washington, D.C., wanting to protect military installations.
“We’re thankful that the governor recognized the importance of Senate Bill 277, and the governor continues to support our military,” he said. “We’re grateful for that.”
Barham said the SMAC’s purpose is to support the existing missions at Sheppard as well as help bring in new ones. He said they will continue to educate the general public on the implications of encroachment on the base, in this case, specifically, wind farms.
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. The Times Record News reached out to Horn Wind via email, but had not heard back from the company.