Sheppard Air Force Base and the military community is celebrating a win this week as a wind farm company decides to not build near the base.
The base announced that Innergex, a renewable energy company, was considering building wind farms near Byers and Bluegrove.
After information campaigns from the base and Sheppard Military Affairs Committee (SMAC) about how the developments would negatively impact Sheppard’s training routes, the company removing themselves from the permitting process – meaning their interest in the area is essentially over.
“We are grateful for the decision Innergex has made regarding proposed wind projects in Byers and Bluegrove,” George Woodward, SAFB Public Affairs spokesperson, said Friday.
“These projects would have had serious negative impacts on our ability to safely manage both civilian and military air traffic in those areas and would also have reduced the overall number of effective flying training days we have each year.”
The process, he said, was an effort of both the base and local officials.
“We appreciate the continued support of local civic, business and government leaders on this issue as we continue to work with them and with wind energy advocates to balance military readiness and economic development,” he said.
SMAC President Glenn Barham said this is good news for the Sheppard area.
Wind turbines near low-level military training routes can cause radio interference and be a hazard to the aircraft themselves when the craft are 1,000 feet or closer to the ground.
Barham said Sheppard has focused efforts on keeping turbines out of the low-level flight routes for training pilots at the base.
Currently, there are 17 of these flight routes – three have already been abandoned because of wind farm encroachment.
“There are others proposed that we have learned about that could cause the closure of two more routes. We are looking to educate everybody about encroachment,” Barham said.
Renewable energy is a great innovation that benefits people, but, Barham said, their aim is to mitigate any issues that may arise between the military and wind farm companies.
SMAC, Sheppard and other military bases are testing a more proactive approach with these wind farm companies to help alleviate any unnecessary animosity between the groups.
They are not against renewable energy, Barham said, but want to be part of the planning process sooner to inform companies as to the best locations that will not impact training missions.
For instance, he said, flight training routes are 10 miles wide and companies could chose to locate a farm closer to an edge, rather than the middle, of a training route.
“One day they might fly five miles left of the center line. The next day, two miles right of the center line. They need plenty of maneuvering space,” he said.
When talking with a wind farm company, they may ask them to consider not placing a wind farm right in the middle of a training route, but rather to an extreme edge of the route.
“We believe that, by working together and communicating early in the process, we can reach mutually compatible solutions not only in and around military bases, but also around FAA-designated military training routes and operating areas in Texas and Oklahoma,” Woodward said.
State legislators are already taking notice of the need to change regulation of wind farms to better protect military training bases.
Oklahoma Senate Bill 1576, approved in early May by Oklahoma Gov. Mary Fallin offers far-reaching regulation to protect routes from encroaching turbines.
Barham said SMAC representatives will be meeting with Rep. James Frank and the next senator-elect after November to consider proposition of similar legislation in Texas.
Such a bill would be “immensely useful” to Sheppard and other military training bases, Barham said.
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