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Paths of pilots: Wind farm work stoppage protects Oklahoma’s No. 1 asset

A standoff in the high plains has a happy ending – for now.

Wind farm construction is now halted along a route of airspace the Air Force uses for training to allow the Department of Defense to complete a mitigation plan.

In an agreement between NextEra Energy Resources and Oklahoma Strategic Military Planning Commission, turbine construction will pause pending a new determination of no hazard from Federal Aviation Administration in the project areas west of the town of Hinton, which is 53 miles west of Oklahoma City and 88 miles south-southwest of Enid.

After Oklahoma Attorney General Mike Hunter’s leading negotiation, this provides an opportunity for NextEra and the Defense Department to find the best solution for all parties moving forward without litigation. Fortunately, NextEra plans to work with the Defense Department to have a mitigation plan prepared by Oct. 15.

While the NextEra wind farm normally has minimal impact with Vance, the project does fall under four to five different low-level routes. That would have significant impact to other bases and aircraft. Some of our Vance crews might use even those low levels now and then, but they aren’t a part of daily operations.

Airspace remains the No. 1 most important asset in the state of Oklahoma. Vance, Tinker and Altus bases have a $19 billion annual economic impact on the state.

Rising hundreds of feet into the sky, turbines can encroach on flight corridors. If they are in the paths of low-flying planes, that requires the Air Force to abandon routes or take other evasive action.

Over the past decade, some developers have constructed towering turbines within those protected routes, and officials said there was little the military could do to stop it.

Wind advocates have said the industry attempts to avoid interfering with military access, but also want to preserve individual property rights.

We don’t want Oklahoma to become vulnerable to losing its existing military bases. Our state can’t afford to lose any of that economic impact.

We applaud U.S. Rep. Steve Russell, the 5th Congressional District Republican, for recognizing this national security issue. His law requires that the Department of Defense be consulted on applications for new energy projects in an effort to minimize the impact on military operations. Developers must also file their development plans at least a year before they start construction of a project within a military training route.

“We appreciate Attorney General Hunter’s good faith negotiations for the OSMPC and for helping protect one of the military’s most valuable assets,” said OSMPC Chairman Mike Cooper, who also is the city of Enid’s military liaision. “The airspace used for training is critical to our national defense and to the mission of our state and nation’s military installations.”

Surely, developers don’t want to interfere with military training routes. Some wind developers may already consult base commanders before they start construction, but Russell’s law helps ensure turbines aren’t constructed in the paths of pilots.