Energy Development Near Military Operations

By Jocelyn Durkay and Jennifer Schultz | Vol . 22, No. 34 / September 2014

NCSL NewsDid you know?

  • Utility-scale renewable energy and related electrical transmission projects may interfere with military installations, test and training ranges, and airspace.
  • The Department of Defense established its Siting Clearinghouse in 2010 to help state and local governments address potential impacts of renewable energy development on military operations.
  • State legislatures are working to prevent and mitigate energy-related encroachment on military installations to reduce costs and preserve the military mission.

The Department of Defense (DoD) operates more than 420 major military installations in 47 states, the District of Columbia, Guam and Puerto Rico. These installations not only fulfill the traditional role of training troops and protecting national security, but also create employment opportunities and help sustain local communities. In 2013, for example, military installations in North Carolina supported 540,000 jobs, $30 billion in personal income and $48 billion in gross state product.

While most military installations were built in then-remote areas, the rapid pace of development in recent years has pushed communities closer to perimeter fences. The cumulative effect of incompatible development near military installations, also known as encroachment, threatens the military’s ability to execute its mission. Encroachment can restrict access to test and training ranges, present obstacles to low-level flight operations, interfere with nighttime exercises, and degrade military communication and navigation.

Construction of some renewable energy facilities and transmission lines near military-managed lands can create encroachment. In particular, wind turbines can interfere with radar and cause low-level flight obstruction; high-voltage transmission lines may create electromagnetic interference; and photovoltaic panels can reflect sunlight, creating hazards for air operations, such as glint—a momentary flash of bright light—and glare—a continuous source of bright light.

By including the DoD and representatives from nearby military installations in stakeholder discussions, energy-related compatibility challenges often can be overcome in the initial planning process, saving states and localities from unplanned mitigation expenses and permitting obstacles.

State Action

Several states have established siting and permitting processes that consider compatibility with military operations by including the DoD and representatives from nearby military installations in the energy planning process. In the 2014 legislative session, at least nine states considered legislation concerning energy projects on or near military installations.

California enacted legislation in 2002 requiring the state Office of Planning and Research to prepare and publish a compatibility planning handbook for local officials, planners and builders to decrease land use conflicts on or near military installations. Additional legislation from 2004 requires the governor to develop a conflict resolution process for proposed local or state projects that could potentially affect military activities. California also has developed the California Military Land Use Compatibility Analyst to help localities consider the effects of new growth on military readiness, installations and airspace.

In the 2013 session, North Carolina enacted legislation to establish a permitting program for wind energy siting that includes consideration of the effects on military operations and readiness. Developers must request a preapplication meeting with the state Department of Environment and Natural Resources to identify potential risks to military operations or navigation routes. The department notifies the commanding officers of each major military installation and includes them in the review process.

These efforts to address compatibility early in siting proposals allow all stakeholders to prepare for pending projects. For example, in Virginia, a state where wind siting occurs at the local level, a Local Government Outreach Stakeholder Group developed a model wind ordinance for localities to use in utility-scale wind energy projects. The model ordinance includes resources for notifying the DoD of proposed utility-scale wind installations.

Federal Action

Although the DoD is a strong proponent of renewable energy, the department must ensure that wind turbines, solar panels and other infrastructure located on or near military installations are compatible with test and training activities.

In 2010, the secretary of defense created the DoD Siting Clearinghouse to address the potential effects of renewable energy development on military operations. The clearinghouse works closely with state and local governments, developers and other federal agencies to provide timely, coordinated reviews of proposed energy projects to prevent or minimize operational impacts. A federal rule published in 2013 describes the Mission Compatibility Evaluation process, under which the clearinghouse conducts its reviews. The clearinghouse has no regulatory authority and generally serves in an advisory role to the appropriate permitting agency.

The clearinghouse conducted formal reviews of 2,075 projects in 2013, the vast majority of which were found to have little or no effect on military operations and readiness. A few projects, however, warranted further analysis and discussion with developers to identify potential mitigation solutions. For example, the clearinghouse recently finalized an agreement with a developer in North Carolina to allow modified siting of wind turbines to lessen impacts on the Seymour-Johnson Air Force Base.

In partnership with the Natural Resources Defense Council, the clearinghouse also developed the READ-Database, a mapping tool that allows energy developers to identify sites that may interfere with military activities and environmentally sensitive areas. By consulting the READ Database, developers and other stakeholders can identify military mission conflicts at the earliest point in the siting process. In addition, the clearinghouse is leading efforts to mitigate radar interference, glint and glare issues, and electromagnetic interference, as well as to improve models to predict the effects of proposed projects.

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