Military officials say wind turbines can stir up problems for bases
Apr 30, 2010 - Dave Montgomery - Fort Worth Star - McClatchy-Tribune Regional News
Giant wind turbines dotting the Texas landscape have made the Lone Star State the nation's leader in the development of wind power, but they may also pose a hazard to military installations by interfering with crucial radar operations, state lawmakers were told Tuesday.
Standing 250 feet high with 150-foot-long blades, the wind turbines could cause false signals on radar and endanger aerial maneuvers or produce erroneous information about storm conditions, several military officials told the House Committee on Defense and Veterans' Affairs.
Interviewed afterward, the officials said they are unaware of crashes or serious accidents resulting from radar interference but expressed concern that windmill encroachment around the state's military bases could become a growing problem.
Navy Capt. Tracy "T.D." Smyers, commander of Naval Air Station Fort Worth, who also testified, said the issue isn't a problem for his installation since there is minimal wind production in North Texas. But he offered suggestions on how communities can work together with military installations to resolve such conflicts, including consulting with base officials.
Smyers cited what he is said is a "great relationship" between the Naval Air Station, on the western edge of Fort Worth, and six surrounding communities, as well as Tarrant County. The communities work with the air station through a Regional Coordination Committee to discuss compatible land use and other issues, Smyers said.
The concerns raised by other military officials underscore a potential downside of Texas' emergence as the nation's leading producer of wind energy.
More than 6,000 wind turbines have sprung up in parts of far West Texas and the Panhandle and along the Gulf Coast in response to the nation's growing demand for alternative energy. A wind farm in Roscoe, near Abilene, is believed to be the world's largest.
"The challenge is finding the right balance between promoting wind power and protecting our military installations," said Rep. Chris Turner, D-Burleson, a member of the committee.
Patrick Woodson of Austin, chief development officer for E.ON Climate and Renewables, one of Texas' leading wind producers, told the committee that industry officials are open to working with military installations.
"I don't think anybody in our industry has an interest in limiting any mission," Woodson said. "We don't think it needs to be either/or."
Lt. Col. Michael Bob Starr, commander of the 7th Operations Support Squadron at Dyess Air Force Base in Abilene, said windmills throughout West Texas could pose a potential hazard to B-1 bombers and C-130 transports that fly missions from the base. More than 2,000 turbines have been built within 100 miles of Dyess and others are farther west.
Starr said base officials have persuaded wind turbine developers to redesign projects to avoid adversely affecting operations on or near the base. But he said wind turbines elsewhere in West Texas can interfere with low-level training missions that can sometimes extend up to 120 miles from the base.
In the worst case, Starr said in a statement, they can form "an unknown and potentially catastrophic hazard to our aircrews."
Additionally, he said, a dense cluster of wind turbines near the town of Albany can produce a "radar shadow" north and west of Dyess that often obscures severe weather approaching the base.
Committee members were told that the moving windmill blades can create erroneous patterns on radar. Dave Dahl, a Navy official from Jacksonville, Fla., said military officials should be informed about construction plans well in advance to have a chance to weigh in.
Capt. Philip Waddingham, commanding officer of Naval Air Station Kingsville, expressed concern about proposals to greatly expand the number of windmills in the region, which he described as a prime training area for the Navy's student pilots.
As "these wind farms are built closer and closer to the Naval Air Station," he said, "we anticipate there being a negative impact."
DAVE MONTGOMERY IS THE STAR-TELEGRAM'S AUSTIN BUREAU CHIEF. 512-476-4294