Feds deflate Midwestern wind farms
Radar interference a screen, critics say.
CHICAGO - The federal government has stopped work on more than a dozen wind farms planned across the Midwest, saying research is needed on whether the giant turbines could interfere with military radar.
But backers of wind power say the action has little to do with national security. The real issue, they say, is a group of wealthy vacationers who think a proposed wind farm off the coast of Cape Cod would spoil the view at their summer homes.
Opponents of the Cape Wind project include several influential members of Congress. Critics say their latest attempt to thwart the planting of 130 turbines in Nantucket Sound has led to a moratorium on wind farms hundreds of miles away in the Midwest.
Federal officials refused to reveal how many stop-work orders have been sent out. But developers say at least 15 wind farm proposals in the Midwest have been shut down by the Federal Aviation Administration since the beginning of the year.
The list of stalled projects includes one outside Bloomington, Ill., that would be the nation’s largest source of wind energy, generating enough juice to power 120,000 homes in the Chicago area. The developer had planned to begin installing turbines this summer and start up the farm next year.
"This is a big, ugly political maneuver by a handful of people who are undermining America’s energy security," said Michael Vickerman, executive director of RENEW Wisconsin, a not-for-profit group that promotes renewable power.
Vickerman and others noted that despite the government’s recent concern about proposed wind projects, it is allowing dozens of existing wind farms to continue to operate within sight of radar systems.
The bureaucratic entanglements come as President George W. Bush is encouraging more wind power as a solution to the skyrocketing prices of oil and natural gas, as well as environmental problems such as global warming. During a speech in Milwaukee three months ago, Bush said wind turbines eventually could provide 20 percent of the nation’s energy needs.
Harnessing the wind is a clean and relatively inexpensive way to generate electricity without the troublesome byproducts of coal or nuclear power. But the vast collections of turbines - some of which reach 40 stories tall - are derided by opponents as unreliable and unsightly.
Of the scores of projects proposed around the country, perhaps the most controversial has been Cape Wind, which if approved would be the first offshore wind farm in the United States.
Most of the opposition focuses on the proposed location in the channel between Cape Cod and Martha’s Vineyard, the bucolic Massachusetts vacation areas frequented by many high-profile celebrities, business executives and politicians.
Critics include members of the Kennedy family, whose summer compound is on Cape Cod. Both Sen. Ted Kennedy, D-Mass., and his nephew, Robert F. Kennedy Jr., have said the turbines would spoil the ocean views, threaten the local tourist economy and endanger migratory birds.
Another opponent is U.S. Sen. John Warner, R-Va., who has tried several times to block the Cape Wind project. In a 2002 letter to the Army Corps of Engineers, Warner included a handwritten note saying he often visits Cape Cod, which he called a "national treasure."
But the project continued to move forward until late last year, when Warner, chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee, slipped an amendment into a military spending bill. The one-sentence congressional order directs the Department of Defense to study whether wind towers could mask the radar signals of small aircraft.
Since then, at the defense department’s behest, the FAA has been blocking any new wind turbines within the scope of radar systems that are used by the military.
"This has nothing to do with wind," said Michael Polsky, president and chief executive officer of Invenergy, a Chicago company with projects in Illinois and Wisconsin that have been blocked by the government. "It has everything to do with politics."
Warner’s office did not return telephone calls seeking comment. A spokesman previously released a statement saying the defense department study "ensures that Congress will possess as much information as possible on wind farms’ impact on military operations."
According to an opinion piece by Michael Vickerman in the Madison (WI) Capital Times:
The Defense Department's study was due last month, but now it appears it may not be completed until this fall. Unless the situation changes dramatically, the stalled wind projects won't be able to proceed until next year. The recurring shortage of wind turbines worldwide could easily push construction start dates even further out.
From a post by "background N015E" at TPM Cafe (TPM Cafe is down for maintenance at the moment; here's a cached copy
... 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 mean time, 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.
From a Press release (PDF):
WASHINGTON, DC – Led by Wisconsin Representatives Ron Kind and Tammy Baldwin, a bipartisan group of twenty-two members of Congress from five Midwestern states joined in sending letters today to Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) Administrator Marion Blakey and Department of Defense (DOD) Secretary Donald Rumsfeld expressing concern with a federal policy that has slowed or halted several wind projects while the DOD studies the effects of wind turbines on military radar systems.
In anticipation of the overdue report on the study, the letters ask the FAA and the DOD to work together with project developers - as they have done in the past - to find “workable solutions” so the projects can continue. Specifically, the letters request that the DOD and FAA investigate ways to mitigate any potential interference, rather than simply issue notices that block critical wind projects.
“As energy costs rise dramatically, improving our supply of renewable fuel is more important than ever. I would hope that our federal agencies could work together to protect our national security while adopting an efficient, economical, and environmentally friendly energy policy,” said Congresswoman Baldwin.
In January, Congress passed a law requiring the DOD to study and report on whether wind turbines interfere with air defense radar. Until the study is completed, a moratorium has been placed on several wind power projects determined to be in the path of long-range air defense radars. The study has yet to be completed, although the deadline for the report has already passed. Meanwhile, the wind farm moratorium continues, jeopardizing the development of critical wind projects throughout the country.
In the Midwest, roughly 13 wind projects, which could power more than a million households, are affected. Five of the projects are in Wisconsin where energy companies say that before the moratorium, they were prepared to commit at least a billion dollars to their construction and operation.
“This is a critical time in our nation’s energy future when we should be encouraging the development of clean, renewable sources of energy, not adding obstacles that will delay or derail them,” stated Rep. Kind. “While we recognize the significance of the study being conducted, it is our hope that the Administration can find ways to allow these important energy projects to continue in a manner that addresses national security concerns.
American Wind Energy Association Deputy Executive Director, Tom Gray, said, “We stand ready to work with these House Members and government agencies to find acceptable solutions. However, overly broad restrictions that shut down the industry threaten jobs and clean, domestic wind energy and are not appropriate.”