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United Kingdom

Action on removing radar blocks -- Speeding development in Britain

Many industry hopes for a rapid escalation of wind power development in Britain are pinned on an agreement reached between the wind industry, government and aviation interests to clear the impasse over objections to wind farms based on fears they will interfere with the accuracy of readings by civil and military radar installations.

Over 4.5 GW of wind farm developments in planning are blocked by outstanding aviation objections; stakeholders with objections include the Ministry of Defence (MOD), local airports and air traffic manager NATS En Route, representing civil radar interests.

The objections are mostly due to wind turbines' alleged effect on defence radar. The MOD claims that trials have proved that wind turbines can mimic, distort, erroneously locate or conceal the smaller radar reflections from aircraft. The agreement to move forward to solve the problem is in the form of a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU). It was signed by the MOD, the Department for Business, Enterprise and Regulatory Reform (BERR), the Department for Transport, the Civil Aviation Authority (CAA), NATS En Route Ltd and the British Wind Energy Association (BWEA).

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The MOU commits the signatories to exploring technical solutions to air defence and air traffic control radar, as well as radar absorbent technology. It also paves the way for improvements to the early stage wind farm planning processes to be implemented before the end of the year. The MOD will aim to shorten consultation timescales with developers and establish a web-based screening tool to help developers in early stages of wind farm planning. And it includes a new remit for the CAA as an independent arbitrator in disputes between developers and aviation interests. The MOU also commits more financial and staffing resources to deal with wind farm applications and to look for solutions; and creates a new Aviation Management Board to monitor progress and report directly to government ministers.

The initiative follows Prime Minister Gordon Brown's pledge in November 2007 to find a technical solution to overcome radar and aviation obstacles to wind farm deployment in the UK. This led the defence minister to appoint a high level MOD official, Assistant Chief of the Air Staff Air Vice Marshal Tim Anderson, to find a solution to the wind farms issue. Anderson's involvement is already resulting in more staff for the under-resourced Defence Estates section that deals with wind farm applications. With 780 applications to process to date, the length of time the MOD takes before deciding whether or not to object has long been a sore point with developers. More infuriating still has been the MOD's decision in a number of cases to object to a project at the eleventh hour in the consenting process.

But while the MOD has been drawing most flak in the media for blocking wind energy's progress, it is NATS that has obstructed more megawatts of potential wind projects, citing the potential effect of wind turbines on civil aviation radar.

Real progress

The BWEA's new head of aviation, Nicola Vaughan, welcomes the MOU as an important first step to resolve many of the issues. "We now need to focus our efforts on collaboratively addressing the issue; investment in technical solutions is essential, and we should also understand where operational allowances can be made." BWEA CEO Maria McCaffery adds: "Wind energy is required to deliver around 30% of the UK's electricity by 2020. This MOU demonstrates the commitment of all parties to work together in strong partnership -- essential if we are to respond to the scale of this challenge."

The government's John Hutton, Secretary of State for business, says: "This agreement represents real progress towards removing a barrier to the expansion of wind power, while ensuring air safety and national security. This will lead to faster consenting decisions and help us meet our challenging renewable energy targets."

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