Opinion: Retain Process for Wind Farm Approval Near Bases

Originally published in the San Antonio Express-News on September 16, 2018.

By Bishop Garrison and Sarah E. Hunt

Americans empower our military leaders, with appropriate oversight, to make the best decisions for the men and women under their command. That’s why it’s troubling to see that lately, some politicians are confused about the technical aspects of military readiness and wind energy.

Here’s the reality: The Department of Defense reviews every wind project built near a military base, and no wind project has ever been built over its objections.

The Defense Department has extensive experience working with states and local bases to determine how best to ensure compatibility of wind development and military operations, and leaders have said one-size-fits-all solutions are not effective in protecting DOD or base interests.

In fact, the Department of Defense has established a review process to ensure proposed wind farms wouldn’t harm military readiness or operations, including radars, flight operations, research, development, testing, evaluation and training activities.

This “clearinghouse” process brings together local base commanders (including the National Guard), individual military services and the Department of Defense to evaluate proposed energy projects. If concerns exist, private developers and the military discuss whether they can be mitigated.

The existing evaluation process uses detailed technical information related to each specific base (its assets and missions) and the details of a proposed wind farm (turbine layout, number, height, location, etc.) to understand potential impacts. This approach is more effective at guaranteeing protection of a facility’s missions and capabilities than arbitrary exclusion zones.

In the past, where proposed wind farms were found to be problem, wind developers have paid to upgrade radar systems, moved proposed turbine locations, reduced the sizes of projects or canceled projects altogether to avoid potentially interfering with base operations and mission readiness when necessary.

Wind power can also play an important role in strengthening our military and national security. There’s a prime example right here in Texas: Fort Hood gets around half of its electricity from wind and solar, and securing the base’s energy supply was a prime motivator for this move.

“For too long, we’ve taken it for granted that our installations are safe,” said Richard Kidd IV, deputy assistant secretary of the Army for strategic integration, speaking about the Fort Hood announcement. “We need to take steps now to install power generation on our installations, to connect different technologies and secure the micro grid in a way that can provide energy security to those installations.”

“Having an energy surety program to couple with this so we can use it anywhere, at any time, is really, really important,” said III Corps and Fort Hood Commanding General Lt. Gen. Paul Funk II.

Plus, getting more power from renewables saved Fort Hood an estimated $1.5 million in 2017 alone, and it’s expected wind and solar will save the base millions more in the years ahead.

Let’s not also forget that wind energy is a vital economic engine, employing more than 100,000 Americans, and the men and women who serve our country find jobs in wind at a rate 72 percent higher than the average in other industries. Nowhere is this on display more than Texas. Texas leads the country with more than 24,000 wind jobs, many at the 45 in-state factories that build wind-related parts.

The Defense Department has a track record of successfully balancing wind development, and the jobs it brings, with military requirements. The department’s practice is to base its decisions on extensive site-specific, science-based analyses conducted by the military services and supported by some of the leading civilian experts in the country.

We believe that practice should continue and that with the current system of oversight, America’s military leaders should be allowed to decide how best to protect their mission.

Bishop Garrison and Sarah E. Hunt are co-founders of Joseph Rainey Center for Public Policy, a think tank building sustainable politics through inclusive governance. Bishop is a graduate of the U.S. Military Academy at West Point and an Operation Iraqi Freedom Army veteran.