KINGSVILLE -- An unusual standoff is taking place in the south Texas skies: It's clean energy against the United States Navy.
For 70 years, the Navy has trained half of all of its jets pilots at the Kingsville Naval Air Station, but recently, the station's radar has been detecting something else in the air – wind turbines.
The problem isn't the turbines themselves, Capt. Mark McLaughlin said.
“We are not going to fly into these things," he said. “We’re better than that.”
The issue actually happens in the Navy’s command center, where on radar, a wind turbine looks just like a Navy jet.
"Now you have the issue of (determining) where’s the airplane and what's the interference,” McLaughlin said. “Can I separate the two? What happens if there are two airplanes? Can I keep them and the interference separate so we can avoid a mid-air collision?"
Wind power source growing
Within 25 miles of the Kingsville NAS, there are 164 wind turbines already operating, and there are plans for 1,400 more.
Greg Wortham with the Texas Wind Energy Clearinghouse said hundreds of wind turbines are on schedule to be built this year near Kingsville.
Each one, he said, can provide enough electricity for 700 homes in Texas.
The wind energy advocate said these wind farms along the coast will keep electric bills down in San Antonio and the economy up in Kingsville and Corpus Christi.
"These projects mean so much to school districts, hospital districts (and) counties in terms of the tax revenue, the sales tax revenue, the jobs that they bring into these communities," Wortham said.
The reason wind developers are targeting the Texas coast is because of what Wortham calls peak performance wind.
"Which means as people turn on their air conditioners in Corpus Christi, San Antonio (and) Houston, the energy force (the wind) is picking up here almost at the same level."
Windy conditions good for flight training
The Navy said the wind patterns are the same reason it trains its pilots along the Texas coast.
"We have a tremendous asset down here. It's our wind,” McLaughlin said. “It's the same reason we want to fly down here. We need that wind to simulate an aircraft carrier environment, which is arguably the hardest thing in aviation today."
McLaughlin said his air station is willing to work with wind farm developers.
The Navy is developing new radar technology and studying wind turbine formations in hopes of finding ways to mitigate the problem.
However, the Navy said it will take time and is asking green energy developers to move slowly.
"We really need to work with these developers and we are, so they can get what they need -- the wind -- without having them impact our mission down here," he said.
But with the uncertain future of federal subsidies, many wind farm developers said now is the time to capitalize.
"All of south Texas and the coast needs this energy," Wortham said.
The Navy said there's enough room for both in the Texas skies, but the radar technology needed for both has yet to take flight, and until it does, the Navy will do whatever it takes to protect its mission.