Energy | Ecotrope

On the radar: Is it a wind turbine or a 747?

Ecotrope | Aug. 27, 2010 9:15 a.m. | Updated: Feb. 19, 2013 1:47 p.m.

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This New York Times story about the U.S. Department of Defense dogging wind energy is getting passed around quite a bit today.

According to the American Wind Energy Association, the military and the Federal Aviation Administration blocked nearly as much wind energy development as the industry was able to build last year.

The problem is an ongoing conflict between wind turbines and radar on planes.

The story quotes a specialist at the Idaho National Laboratory, Gary Seifert, who calls the problem a “train wreck” of competing national energy and national security needs.

In fact, the Northwest has firsthand experience in the clashes between the wind industry and the military.

The story points out:

“The impact of wind turbines on radar had been a back-burner concern for years, but it heated up in March, when the Defense Department put a last-minute halt to the $2 billion, 338-turbine Shepherds Flat wind project in Oregon out of concern the turbines would impair the effectiveness of long-range surveillance radar.

The department eventually withdrew its opposition after an internal analysis indicated the effect on radar would not be as severe as initially thought and an outside study identified measures that could be taken to mitigate the interference. However, the Pentagon soon raised concerns about another wind project in the area, saying it could interfere with the very same radar.”

Industry groups say the potential radar conflict makes it hard for developers to get financing, and military and aviation camps say it’s hard for existing radar software to adapt to a landscape full of turbines.

On radar, “a wind turbine can look like a 747 on final approach,” said Peter Drake, technical director at Raytheon, a major provider of radar systems. “We don’t want to have the software eliminate a real 747.”

The U.S. Department of Energy says new technology will resolve the conflict eventually. But will it do so in time for companies to cash in on all the tax incentives for building wind farms?

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