U.S. wind power facing government interference

Military concerns regarding radar interaction with wind projects are halting wind power developments of hundreds of megawatts in some parts of the U.S., according to the American Wind Energy Association (AWEA).

The problem was reported by a technical newsletter, Renewable Energy Access (REA). AWEA is a trade association representing wind power developers, turbine makers, insurers and others.

Gary Seifert, program manager of the Idaho National Laboratory, said at the Tehachipi Pass wind farm in Central California, the smallest turbine spinning in the wind gives off a radar signal bigger and stronger than a Boeing 747. At the same time, Seifert said, the military is developing stealth technology so some aircraft give off no more radar signature than a bird.

Seifert, who is a radar specialist, spoke to a packed house at a session on wind-radar interaction at the recent annual Wind Power conference in Pittsburgh, sponsored by the AWEA.

The Association said in a statement: “Recent action by some U.S. government agencies to effectively halt development of many pending wind energy facilities could lead to a de facto moratorium on the development of wind power in the U.S.”

A Pittsburgh publication, Renewable Energy Access reported—the statement was prompted by a provision of the National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal 2006, that was signed into law in January. The law contained an amendment inserted by Sen. John Warner, (R-Va.), mandating the Department of Defense study and report the effects of wind projects on military readiness.

Many projects in the Midwest have been put on doubtful status pending completion of this review. As many as 15 potential projects were issued notices of “perceived hazard” from the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) that brought development to a halt.

Seifert said many wind turbines can emit a signature similar to an aircraft on landing approach and can create radar “dead zones” above and behind a specific wind project—called “ghosting”—where a second false image can develop.

The ban, however, is expected to be of short duration. The British and other European countries already are using software that can distinguish between an airplane and a wind turbine.

Seifert told the audience the military and the wind industry are in a very early stage of working out the conflicts, and he expects a middle ground will be found that satisfies both the wind industry and national security issues.

Lt. Col. William Crowe, a high-ranking Airspace Policy Officer from the Pentagon, told the audience he would be willing to serve as an initial one-stop contact in the Air Force to enable the procedure for developers to ask about how their projects may be affected. “We’re trying to establish a standard process so that wind developers can hit one person in the Department of Defense,” Col. Crowe said. “We’re in process to achieve that, and it’s only in its infancy right now,” REA reported.

The original Congressional mandate was aimed only at one project, but the Department of Defense and the Department of Homeland Security decided to expand that directive to all proposed wind power installations in the U.S. Only in the Midwest, however, have developments actually been halted by the FAA—to date.

David Luck, head of business development for Enexco, is but one of many wind power developers concerned about how this stance will affect projects now in the pipeline, according to the publication Renewable Energy Access. His company is the biggest supplier of operations and maintenance for wind projects in this country with more than 4,000 turbines under its control. Luck hasn’t been able to get the right answers about this issue.

“It has a significant potential impact on all our projects, and it’s such a new issue, it almost came out of the woodwork,” Luck told REA. “We’re still working to understand the issue. If taken literally, it could eliminate thousands of megawatts of wind power.”

Luck is referring to an Interim Policy on Proposed Windmill Farm Locations, that says, in part: “…the DOD/DHS interim policy is to contest any establishment of windmill farms within radar line of the National Air Defense and Homeland Security Radars. This is to remain in effect until the completion of the study and publishing of the Congressional Report,” he told REA.

The operable phrase that has everyone up in arms is “radar line.” The line of sight with radar can be very broadly interpreted to an indefinite distance from the radar station. The U.S. military has long-range radar systems that could easily pick up signals from distant wind projects.

Axel Albers, senior scientist with WindGuard North America, has experience in Europe, where his parent company mostly operates and has only now entered the U.S. market. Albers said initial radar concerns in Europe were much overblown and, in some instances, politically motivated. “It has been figured out that, in most cases, concerns were not justified,” Albers told REA.

Despite all the uproar and worry as to where this issue is headed, developers like Luck believe the problem will work itself out. “We have a very active wind market here,” Luck said. “The radar issue will sort itself out. So will the PTC, or at least people will figure out a soft landing,” REA quoted him saying.

From the July 12-18, 2006, issue

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