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United States

High level action to solve radar issue -- Overzealous FAA

Bans imposed on development of more than 1000 MW of wind projects across much of mid-America because of fears that turbines could interfere with military radar operation should be lifted within weeks, says Andy Karsner, the Department of Energy's assistant secretary of energy efficiency and renewable energy. "I would project that this problem will resolve itself," he says.

"Fundamentally, it is a technical problem and there are technical fixes," says Karsner. "We are proactively advocating on those mitigating measures," he adds. "I would say this administration is engaged on the highest level of making sure those types of roadblocks are cleared."

But his department cannot do it alone, he stresses. "The wind industry, in collaboration with the Department of Energy, has to be assertive in providing those technical fixes in an expedited time frame. But I am confident we will get over it in a way that is safe for radar, safe for planes, safe for national defence and accelerates the wind industry's growth."

By most accounts, the freeze imposed on a swathe of wind projects in the Midwest came about because of opposition by some in the US Congress to the controversial Cape Wind offshore project proposed for waters off the coast of Massachusetts, says Michael Vickerman of RENEW Wisconsin, a renewable energy advocacy group. That opposition led to a requirement on the Department of Defense (DOD) at the start of the year to report within 120 days on the potential for radar interference from wind turbines and what mitigation measures should be taken.

Both the DOD and the Department of Homeland Security chose to expand the original study directive to all proposed wind power installations in the US, says Vickerman, circulating an interim report on March 21 banning wind developments within line of site of radar until the completion of their study. No date was given for when that would be.

The result of the ban so far is the stalling of a number of projects in the Midwest by regional Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) offices. According to Vickerman, more than 900 MW of projects are hit in Wisconsin alone.

Resolution

The American Wind Energy Association (AWEA) is working with the FAA and the DOE to resolve the problem. "We mapped out all the relevant players across government who at any point in time would have their hands touch this problem," says Karsner. "We mapped out an immediate strategy collaborating with Jaime Steve and his colleagues at AWEA to aggressively engage in a proactive dialogue with our counterparts at FAA and at the Department of Defence."

Karsner sees the problem as twofold: a need to quickly reverse the cease-and-desist orders and a need for expediting the study. Karsner adds that he would rather have had the study completed before the orders were sent but that progress is being made.

Vickerman believes the matter is largely a case of regional office overzealousness. "Right now the FAA is feeling a lot of heat," he says. "A lot of press has surfaced in recent weeks, prompting scrutiny from the public and the entire political establishment in Wisconsin is infuriated by this thing. But we've begun to see encouraging signs and we're hearing that the FAA might lift its ban on at least some of these projects."

Karsner cautions that he does not have a specific time frame for when all the bans will be lifted. "I believe to the extent they can, within the realm of safety, they will be dealt with in the short term," he says.

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