United States

United States

New US law fast-tracks radar decisions

UNITED STATES: The majority of US wind farms stalled by concerns over their effects on military radar are set to be given the go-ahead this month, thanks to a newly created clearing house for the projects.

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The US Department of Defense (DOD) Energy-Siting Clearinghouse was established by January's 2011 National Defense Authorization Act, which requires more than 250 backlogged renewables projects, including 184 wind farms, to be evaluated by early this month.

One key aspect of the legislation shifts the burden of proof from wind developers to the DOD. Instead of wind developers having to show that their turbines do not adversely affect radar, the Clearinghouse must prove that the projects in question represent an unacceptable risk to national security.

Dave Belote, director of the Clearinghouse at the Pentagon in Arlington, Virginia, says the majority of the 250 projects will be cleared, with 40 or 50 requiring mitigation negotiations with developers.

"I've been through all of them with my small team," adds Belote, who retired from the US Air Force last year. "Roughly eight to ten projects are what we'd call the red category, which we believe will rise to that level of unacceptable risk."

Mitigation solutions include temporary computer hardware and software fixes, along with relocating turbines to avoid areas susceptible to false radar readings. Wind turbines and radar also represent an area of concern for the Department of Homeland Security, the Federal Aviation Administration and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, which forecasts weather.

The industry is satisfied with the course of action that reflects the US government's push to source 20% of the nation's electricity from wind by 2030. "There's been a marked change in how the issue of wind and radar is being addressed by the government stakeholders,"says Stu Webster, wind permitting director at Iberdrola Renewables. "We're hopeful that it'll bear fruit sooner rather than later. But the headway they've made to date is very promising."

Meanwhile, long-term solutions involve replacing much of the DOD's radar, which in many cases is 40 to 50 years old. While the wind industry is not in the business of upgrading radar the military should be replacing, Webster says that, in some cases, costs may be shared. "If wind is what's instigating it, then why shouldn't the industry pay for it, or at least pay a part?"

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