Pride of the Plains 2018: Wind Energy

Wind turbines stand east of Hennessey Saturday, March 17, 2018. 

Billy Hefton | Enid News & Eagle

The Oklahoma Legislature passed a bill Wednesday that promises to prevent future encroachment of wind industry development on military airspace and training routes.

Legislators met last October to discuss ways the state’s burgeoning wind industry could negatively impact the multi-billion dollar aerospace industry by preventing military aircraft full use of training areas and low-level training routes.

Mike Cooper, city of Enid military liaison and chairman of Oklahoma Strategic Military Planning Com­mission, told the News & Eagle last October the state was at risk of losing its three Air Force bases if military airspace wasn’t protected from encroachment.

Military aircraft fly training missions from Tinker in Midwest City, Vance in Enid and Altus in Altus. Sheppard Air Force Base in Texas also uses airspace in Oklahoma, and Fort Sill is increasingly using air space to operate drones, Cooper said.

Cooper said last fall he had hope the wind industry, military and legislature would come to an agreement.

“As always the devil’s in the details,” Cooper said last October, “but we’ll get there.”

That hope came to fruition Wednesday with passage of House Bill 3561, which “prohibits construction or operation of a wind energy facility, or facility expansion, from encroaching upon or having a significant adverse impact on the mission, training or operations of any military installation or branch.” 

The bill requires agreement from the military for any planned turbine construction, or an approved mitigation plan from the Department of Defense Siting Clearinghouse “before a wind energy facility may be constructed or expanded.”

Cooper said the bill’s language will protect military training routes, drop zones, bombing ranges and approaches essential to the military’s role in Oklahoma, while enabling the wind industry to continue its growth.

“This legislation goes a long way toward protecting and enhancing our number one asset, which is our airspace,” Cooper said. “It wasn’t about having no wind power. It was about protecting our airspace.”

Cooper said the bill was crafted with close cooperation between the military, wind industry and legislature.

The bill passed 45-0 out of the Senate on Wednesday, after clearing the House by a margin of 91-1 on March 12.

The only hurdle left for the bill is to be signed by Governor Mary Fallin, and Cooper said he feels “comfortable she’ll sign it in a week or two.”

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Neal is education and health reporter for the Enid News & Eagle and editor of Vance Airscoop. Follow him on Twitter, @jamesnealwriter. He can be reached at jneal@enidnews.com.