Blowin' in the wind

This is a map of low-level military training routes used by instructor pilots and students from Vance Air Force Base, showing wind farm projects that are completed (blue), under construction (yellow-orange), proposed (red) or canceled (gray). (Provided graphic)

We were glad to see Oklahoma lawmakers discussing a topic of vital importance to Enid and Vance Air Force Base.

Several speakers, from the military, to wind industry, to landowners, were at the state Capitol on Tuesday to discuss placement of wind turbines and the need to protect vital air space for Oklahoma’s Air Force bases, mainly Vance and Altus.

Currently, it’s up to the federal government to decide whether wind turbine construction could adversely affect the military, but state Rep. Charles Ortega, R-Altus, questioned whether state lawmakers need to implement stricter oversight.

The efforts stalled last legislative session. Senate Bill 477, authored in the last legislative session by Sen. Joe Newhouse, R-Broken Arrow, and Ortega would have required wind farm developers to obtain approval from Oklahoma Aeronautics Commission before starting construction. That bill passed the House, but stalled in the Senate.

Speaking Tuesday, Lt. Gen. Lee Levy, commander of Air Force Sustainment Center, Air Force Materiel Command, Tinker, said wind turbines that rise hundreds of feet into the sky are encroaching on the flight corridors. Some of those turbines now are in the paths of low-flying planes, requiring the Air Force to abandon routes or take other evasive action.

“Using those training routes, we certify (our) planes are ready for low-level (flights),” Levy said. “It is worrisome. We manage around the current encroachment.”

Jeffrey Clark, president of the Wind Coalition, which represents producers and landowners, said his industry attempts to avoid interfering with military access, but also wants to preserve individual property rights. Some rural Oklahoma landowners get hefty royalty checks in exchange for allowing wind companies to build on their lands.

However, we tend to side with U.S. Rep. Steve Russell. Speaking Tuesday, the 5th Congressional District Republican said: “This is not a property rights issue. This is a national security issue.” 

It is. Vance and Altus train pilots who eventually will be on the front lines of our national defense.

In a pretaped message to lawmakers, Russell said he’s working on federal legislation to better regulate the issue. He urged Oklahoma lawmakers to take action sooner. Once wind turbines are erected, there’s little chance of getting the military air space back.

Failure to act could leave Oklahoma vulnerable to losing its existing military bases, Russell said.

“We can’t stick them in military training areas, and that’s exactly what’s happening,” he said.

It’s also an economic issue for Oklahoma. Vance, Tinker and Altus bases have a $19 billion annual economic impact on the state. Oklahoma can’t afford to lose any of that impact.

Mike Cooper, city of Enid military liaison and chairman of Oklahoma Strategic Military Planning Com­mission, said the military and wind industry agree on the issue, and he’s hopeful a solution will be reached.

After Tuesday’s hearing, the issue is out there now in front of everyone. It’s no longer just a Vance issue or an Altus issue. It’s an Oklahoma issue.

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