Wind turbine legislation

Governor Mary Fallin signs Senate Bill 1576, a bill protecting military airspace from encroachment by wind turbine development, Tuesday, under the watch of (from left) Mike Cooper, city of Enid military liaison and chairman of Oklahoma Strategic Military Planning Commission; state Senate President Pro Tem Mike Schulz, R-Altus; state Rep. Charles Ortega, R-Altus; state Sen. Adam Pugh, R-Edmond and Brian Bush, president and CEO of the Altus Chamber of Commerce. 

OKLAHOMA CITY — Gov. Mary Fallin signed Senate Bill 1576 Tuesday, enacting a law designed to protect military airspace from encroachment by wind turbine development.

The bill, passed by the Legislature in April, addressed concerns over wind farm development encroaching on military training routes, drop zones and runway approaches.

Legislators met last October to discuss ways the state's 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 hoped 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."

House Bill 3561 addressed those concerns when it was passed in March and prohibited "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."

Minor changes to the legislation's language needed to be made before it was signed, and the Senate version, Senate Bill 1576, passed unanimously April 18.

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 briefed Oklahoma's Congressional delegation on the bill during Enid officials' annual visit to Washington, D.C. in April.

"We are one of the first states to have effective airspace protection legislation, to make sure we don't negatively impact military airspaces, approaches and drop zones," Cooper said in April. "I can't tell you how appreciative they are, because they need this done in a lot of places where they fly and train, and they'll be holding up Oklahoma as the model for how to get that done."

Cooper credited passage of the legislation to the leadership of the bill's sponsors, state Senate President Pro Tem Mike Schulz, R-Altus, and State Rep. Charles Ortega, R-Altus, and the collaborative efforts of the military and wind energy industry to find mutually agreeable terms.

Schulz, Ortega, Cooper, state Sen. Adam Pugh, R-Edmond and Brian Bush, president and CEO of the Altus Chamber of Commerce, were on hand for Fallin's official signing of SB1576 Tuesday.

Cooper said the bill will provide for continuation of Oklahoma's burgeoning wind industry, while also protecting military airspace, and will promote "100 percent communication" between the military, state of Oklahoma and wind developers.

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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.

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