Legislature passes new bill to protect military airspace from wind turbine encroachment

Wind turbines are erected near the town of Renfrow in northern Grant County int this March 2016 file photo. (Billy Hefton / Enid News & Eagle)

The Oklahoma House unanimously passed House Bill 2118 on Wednesday, setting new requirements and penalties meant to protect military airspace from encroachment by wind turbine development.

Mike Cooper, city of Enid military liaison and chairman of Oklahoma Strategic Military Planning Commission, said the legislation protects the strategic and economic value of airspace used by Oklahoma's three Air Force bases.

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.

HB 2118, authored by state Rep. Charles Ortega, R-Altus, and state Sen. Gary Stanislawski, R-Tulsa, creates setback requirements for wind turbine construction to be clear of military training routes, runway approaches, drop zones and bombing ranges.

The bill is the latest in a string of pieces of legislation passed since 2017.

House Bill 3561, passed last March, 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."

Senate Bill 1576, passed unanimously last April, added minor changes to HB 3561, and required 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.

HB 2118 expanded the requirements for wind turbine developers to have approval from both the FAA and Department of Defense, and requires any new construction "not encroach upon or otherwise have a significant adverse impact on the mission, training or operations of any military installation or branch of military as determined by the Military Aviation and Installation Assurance Siting Clearinghouse and the FAA."

A Determination of No Hazard and mitigation plan for any adverse impacts to military airspace must be submitted to the Corporation Commission and the Oklahoma Aeronautics Commission before wind turbine construction starts.

The bill specifies a $1,500 penalty per day, per turbine, for any new construction that doesn't meet the new guidelines, and sets administrative rules for resolving disputes over turbine projects.

Cooper said the new legislation is "a good, easy legislation — it's not a heavy permitting legislation, it's just a good way to balance the needs of the wind industry with the needs of the military."

"It's landmark legislation," Cooper said, "because it ensures you get the right answer before construction commences, not only from the FAA but also from the Department of Defense."

HB 2118 passed the state Senate unanimously April 23 and passed the state House unanimously Wednesday. The bill now heads to the desk of Gov. Kevin Stitt.

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I am a retired Naval Officer and small business owner, outside of my work at the News & Eagle. My wife Tammy and I enjoy serving together at church and attending Gaslight and ESO. We have two daughters, three dogs and little free time.