DOD Takes the Wind out of Renewable Energy Mix

October 6th, 2006 - by admin

By background N015E – 2006-10-06 22:59:26

No matter where you stand on the issue of Iraq, the Middle East, or global warming, everyone agrees: It is in our national interest to develop energy policies that decrease our dependence on foreign oil. That is one reason sensible people support renewable energy resources like solar, geothermal and wind.

Wind energy is the most rapidly growing source for renewable energy generation. Over the last few decades, the use of wind turbines to generate energy has been growing at a rate of about 50 percent a year.

So why have DOD and DHS imposed a nationwide moratorium on new wind farms across the nation? Good question…

Here’s the short answer: The Defense Department has a new-found concern that wind turbine blades might confuse radar or obscure its view of aircraft. Even though wind farms and radar have co-existed for decades, this issue is now stopping new wind farm construction nation-wide!

We’ll come back to that problem in a moment, but let’s take a look at the Department of Defense Appropriations Act of 2006, because here is where the authorization for this moratorium originated:


(a) FINDING- Congress finds that the Ministry of Defence of the United Kingdom has determined, as a result of a recently conducted study of the effect of windmill farms on military readiness, not to permit construction of windmill farms within 30 kilometers of military radar installations.

Not later than 120 days after the date of the enactment of this Act, the Secretary of Defense shall submit to the Committee on Armed Services of the Senate and the Committee on Armed Services of the House of Representatives a report on the effects of windmill farms on military readiness, including an assessment of the effects on the operations of military radar installations of the proximity of windmill farms to such installations and of technologies that could mitigate any adverse effects on military operations identified.

This lead the Department of Defense (DOD) and the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) to issue an Interim Policy on Proposed Windmill Farm Locations. This policy states that:

“The DOD/DHS Long Range Radar Joint Program Office Interim Policy is to contest any establishment of windmill farms within radar line of site 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.”

As a result, the Federal Aviation Administration has been issuing notices that effectively stop construction of new turbines all around America.

Wind turbines are not new. They enjoy widespread acceptance in Europe, with the UK and Germany leading the way. In the UK, they currently have 1.6 Gigawatts of energy produced by wind power. Germany also produces a lot of energy with wind power. Both are committed to producing more. In fact, the UK has a stated goal of producing 10% of its energy from renewable sources by 2010. Wind is a key part of the mix.

Have they looked at this potential threat to radar and navigation? Of course they have. However, their findings don’t echo the dire warnings of the DoD appropriations amendment. Here’s what they found when they studied the problem in the UK three years ago:

This study concludes that radars can be modified to ensure that air safety is maintained in the presence of wind turbine farms. Individual circumstances will dictate the degree and cost of modification required, some installations may require no change at all whilst others may require significant modification.

In 2005, a spokesman for the British Ministry of Defense commented, “We have been learning about things that we thought were a major problem for us. We have had to step away and say: actually it really isn’t a problem for the air defence community.”

The obvious question is how do you explain these two wildly divergent viewpoints? First, you need to know who inserted the mandate to check out the “windmill” problem into the latest Defense appropriations bill. That would be Senate Armed Services Committee Chairman John Warner (R-Va.), a long-time opponent of a particular wind project proposed for Cape Cod.

The project is called Cape Wind. Critics of Cape Wind argue the 130 proposed turbines about six miles offshore would hurt views, tourism and migratory birds.

To be fair, opposition to Cape Wind is not a strictly partisan issue. Wealthy denizens of Nantucket, and Martha’s Vineyard, including Sen. Kennedy (D-Mass.), also oppose the project. However, they didn’t try to shut down all the wind-powered energy generation projects in America!

If the rich and powerful are worried about the navigational impact of wind turbines several miles off the coast of their New England summer homes, they should have someone call the folks at Logan Airport in Boston to get their input. After all, a large wind turbine is located about 5 miles from Logan.

In the meantime, the folks at DOD should check with their people at Warren Air Force Base in Wyoming, or the long-range radar facilities in Mt. Laguna, California and McCamey, Texas. There are Megawatt generating wind farms near both those long-range radar facilities. The one in Texas has 332 turbines.

This moratorium probably won’t add much to the skyrocketing price of gasoline. The total energy currently produced by all the wind farms in America is on par with a week’s worth of oil production in Iraq.

However, every knowledgable person agrees that wind power has to be part of the mix if renewable energy is going to meet even 10% of our energy needs by 2020.

Simply put, blocking all new wind turbine construction in America, especially for something as frivolous as this, is nonsense

On June 12, 2006 – 5:45pm El Campesino said:
Can you cite a specific example of a proposed wind farm being shut down this way?

My company is working on several wind-farm projects in the west and have heard nothing of this. It is full speed ahead on these, even the one near Edwards AFB.

On June 12, 2006 – 7:59pm background N015E said:
Here is one story that talks about a dozen projects now in limbo. I am reposting this so the link shows up.

On June 13, 2006 – 2:35pm El Campesino said:
Thank you. All the projects are in the Midwest — I wonder if that is the regional perspective of the paper or if that is the only region what this is an “issue.” As I said, we aren’t getting this with projects in California and Idaho.

On June 13, 2006 – 5:30pm background N015E said:
I saw something about a project in the Gulf of Mexico that was similarly affected. Maybe it is only new projects that are being tabled and the ones that are further along are not being derailed due to legal concerns.

Since you are in the business… what are good resources of trade publications if I wanted to follow Green Energy from the point of view of a potential investor? I am not looking for hot tips, but solid reliable trade resources.