Blowing Smoke: The Debate over Wind Projects and Military Bases

Looking Before Leaping: The Debate over 100% Renewables
July 10, 2017
New Report Discusses Smarter Way Forward for Solar Net Metering
July 18, 2017

For nearly a decade, PACE and our partners have observed wind energy issues, assessing and calling out policies that work, or don’t. For example, we’ve objected to and supported wind tax credits, by looking at the facts around each legislative debate. Where wind projects make economic sense, and contribute to a functioning “all of the above” portfolio, the current mix of market forces and supporting policies should be allowed to work.

Wind energy is generating headlines again in several states. In Texas, New York and now North Carolina, opponents of wind energy have tried a new tack – claiming that large wind farms threaten military installations. The reasoning seems to say that tall towers interfere with critical aviation radar systems. Going farther, some profess that wind farm siting may influence complex decision-making processes about whether or not to maintain a base or close it down. The Base Realignment and Closure process (BRAC) includes a criterion for “base encroachment.”

In Texas, SB 277, which the Governor signed in June 2017, limits wind production tax credits for wind farms near military bases. In North Carolina, HB 589 includes an 18-month moratorium on wind farms, a provision which began as a 4-year ban. The Governor is expected to sign it, because the language is wrapped into a more comprehensive energy policy bill. In New York, S.B. 1755 would have banned industrial wind turbine projects within 40 miles of airfields and military bases. Its sponsors say they’ll reintroduce it next session. These bills all prescribe a one-size-fits-all solution for wind projects. In PACE’s experience, one-size-fits-all is rarely the right prescription for energy issues.

Undoubtedly, lawmakers supporting the wind farm limitations are in part inspired by their communities’ long-standing relationships with bases and the central role military installations play in the local economies. Yet, it’s hard to see that the resulting bans on wind farms and limitations on their financing mechanisms hold up in a stiff wind of facts.

The Department of Defense (DoD) isn’t a shrinking violet when it comes to protecting its installations and airspace. Some military bases have wind turbines inside their own footprint. For several years now, DoD has used a thorough process of reviewing and ruling on dozens, if not hundreds, of wind installations that present a possibility of encroachment. DoD partners with other federal agencies to evaluate intricate details of wind projects, and over the years has rejected some and required modifications to many others.

Our military leaders understand the essential connection between energy independence and America’s national security. DoD has emerged as a leader in developing and promoting renewable energy, a practice that continues under the Trump Administration.

As a nation, we need to develop all possible energy sources and preserve an open, transparent and rational debate while we move forward. In Texas, wind energy is a success story that should continue. North Carolina presents the chance to create a significant Southeastern regional wind center. And in New York, the upstate could use the economic boost from new wind farms. Do we really have time to blow smoke about wind farms and military bases?