Red Dirt holds open plant event

Red Dirt wind farm turbines stand east of Hennessey. (Billy Hefton / Enid News & Eagle)

Billy Hefton / Enid News & Eagle

OKLAHOMA CITY — 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 in 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 Gov. Mary Fallin, and Cooper said he feels "comfortable she'll sign it in a week or two."

Click for the latest, full-access Enid News & Eagle headlines | Text Alerts | app downloads

Neal is health, military affairs and religion reporter and columnist for the Enid News & Eagle. Follow him on Twitter, @jamesnealwriter, and online at jamesrneal.com. He can be reached at jneal@enidnews.com.