“By 2008, nearly 40 percent of U.S. long-range radar systems were already compromised by wind turbines. Today, with more than three-times the wind capacity installed, the problem of radar interference persists.”
“Proper siting of turbines, while politically cumbersome, is the only tried and true form of mitigation. But this means denying wind developers access to land areas covered by radar.”
[Editor Note: This essay, the third in a series aimed at correcting the most harmful wind energy-related policies of the Obama era, examines how pro-wind federal law enacted in 2011 compromised U.S. aviation safety.]
U.S. air space has been made less safe and our national security compromised because of a reckless policy of siting wind towers within 30–40 miles of radar installations. By 2008, nearly 40 percent of U.S. long-range radar systems were already compromised by wind turbines. Today, with more than three-times the wind capacity installed, the problem of radar interference persists.
As wind energy installations expanded under the Obama administration, project developers complained to the White House about military base commanders who were protesting turbines sited near radar and and pointing out the potential risks to base missions and aviation safety. Base commanders filed their objections with the FAA according to the long-established objective standard centered on aviation safety concerns contained in FAA Order 7400.2G, which specifically states that “electromagnetic interference potential may create adverse effects as serious as those caused by a physical penetration of the airspace by a structure.”
Washington responded to Big Wind’s complaints by establishing the Department of Defense (DOD) “Siting Clearinghouse.” The Clearinghouse was advertised as a “one-stop” service for industry, to ensure project compatibility with military operations. But the true intent was very different.
With the Clearinghouse, the White House successfully removed uncooperative base commanders from the decision chain. The law also realigned the review standard from aviation safety to national security. Under the new standard, the Secretary of Defense was expressly prohibited from objecting to energy projects unless, after all other technical mitigations were adopted, a project was still shown to be “an unacceptable risk to the national security.”
No one was sure what an “unacceptable risk” meant, but as long as President Obama was in office it was likely that no project would be unacceptable.
When Pioneer Green proposed siting twenty-five 575-foot-tall turbines across the Chesapeake Bay from the important U.S. Naval Air Station Patuxent River (“Pax River”) in Maryland, there was considerable pressure on the Navy to agree to a mitigation plan that would allow the project to proceed. It took an act of Congress to press the point that the turbines might cause irreparable harm to base operations.
Following then-Governor O’Malley’s veto of a state bill to stall the project for 13-months until more studies could be completed, Maryland Senator Barbara Mikulski (D-MD) forced the issue by adding language to the 2015 Defense Appropriations bill directing the Navy “to refrain from executing any agreement with respect to the operation of the proposed wind energy project until the study is provided to the congressional defense committees” and a more detailed assessment of project impacts on base operations was finalized.
Large expenditures of government time and funds have been allocated in pursuit of technical mitigations, but so far the results are controversial. Proper siting of turbines, while politically cumbersome, is the only tried and true form of mitigation. But this means denying wind developers access to land areas covered by radar.
Last fall, Senator Cornyn (R-TX) introduced a critical bill aimed at addressing this issue. S3428 (refiled in this Congress as S.201) would remove all eligibility for the PTC and ITC tax credits for new wind turbine projects that would be sited within a 30-mile radius of an active military airfield, a military air traffic control radar site, or a weather radar site.
In doing so, Senator Cornyn is acknowledging that the wind credits, which enable wind development, are working at cross-purposes with other public funds spent to build and maintain the finest, most advanced radar systems in the world. Congressman Chris Collins (R-NY) introduced a sister bill in the House, HR 6397 (now HR 649).
In the coming months, the new administration can take action that protects air navigation and U.S. military and radar assets by following these recommendations:
 Long Range Radar Joint Program Office Wind Farm Brief Kenneth Kingsmore, DOD Program Manager. September 29, 2008. http://www.windaction.org/posts/32007-long-range-radar-joint-program-office-wind-farm-brief#.WETvXfkrIuU
 Language added to the 2015 Defense Authorization Bill: “Patuxent Naval Air Station.–The Committee is aware that the Department of the Navy commissioned the Massachusetts Institute of Technology’s Lincoln Laboratory to conduct a study to determine the effects and a potential mitigation plan between the operation of the proposed wind energy project and the Patuxent Naval Air Station. The study is not yet completed. Therefore, the Committee directs the Navy to refrain from executing any agreement with respect to the operation of the proposed wind energy project until the study is provided to the congressional defense committees.”
 S.3428 – Protection of Military Airfields from Wind Turbine Encroachment Act https://www.congress.gov/bill/114th-congress/senate-bill/3428
 Wind power has been allowed to impair national weather radar used for severe weather detection and air travel. See: http://www.windaction.org/posts/43188-wind-turbines-vs-weather-radar-in-tornado-alley-nebraska-showdown#.WC8D0PkrIuU
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