02 June 2006

Wind power vs. the War Machine

In a sure sign of desperation, the NIMBY forces aligned against wind power -- wherever it might be -- have enlisted the support of the Department of Defense. According to the Chicago Tribune's Michael Hawthorne, "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."

Hawthorne's story quotes wind power advocates who allege the radar argument is really a smoke screen for "a group of wealthy vacationers who think a proposed wind farm off the coast of Cape Cod in Massachusetts would spoil the view at their summer homes." There's no solid evidence for that, but it's as good a guess as anything else, given the weakeness of the radar claim.

Big nasty wind turbines, so the argument goes, casts a "radar shadow"that could make it impossible for nearby military -- and civilian -- airport radar systems to detect aircraft. If that strikes you as a little dodgy, give yourself a gold star. The same complaints were raised in the U.K. a while back, and so the eggheads at the people's R&D corporation, Qinetiq, were asked to look into it.

This they did. And what did they find? You can read a summary of their report here. The short answer is, not much. While there is a theoretical threat of interference with conventional radar arrays, careful design, orientation and siting should be able to take care of any problem:
Single wind turbines do not create a significant ‘radar shadow’. Any shadow region is only dark to a distance of a few hundred metres behind the turbine. Beyond this there is some reduction of the radar power, and a time-variation, but these will not prevent detection except possibly for very small targets.
Of course, the radar shadow presented by any wind farm is proportional to the number of turbines. And some of the proposals on the drawing board, including the Nantucket project that so enrages Ted Kennedy et al., involve large numbers of turbines. But to freeze development of a dozen different projects is overreacting.

A little consultation with the local military brass, a few computer simulations and Bob's your uncle-- potential conflicts resolved. Instead, everything's ground to a halt, thanks in large part to U.S. Sen. John Warner (R-Va.), a Cape Wind opponent who happens to chair the Senate Armed Services Committee. According to the Trib, he recently added a one-sentence amendment to a congressional order that directs the DoD to study "whether wind towers could mask the radar signals of small aircraft."

I have to agree with Michael Vickerman, executive director of RENEW Wisconsin, a non-profit group that promotes renewable power."This is a big, ugly political maneuver by a handful of people who are undermining America's energy security," he said.

Wind power isn't the answer to all our energy woes. But it could play a significant role in a medley of alternatives that are just waiting for the chance to compete fairly with heavily-subsidized fossil fuels. In any event, don't you think the military has more important things to do these days?

3 Comments:

Anonymous Anonymous said...

Hello!
We in Germany have around 17,000 wind turbines an no problems like that. So there ist no reason to worry :)

3:14 PM  
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