No end to French radar troubles -- Circular solves nothing

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Installing wind turbines near radar in France may have become more difficult in the wake of a new government circular to prefects, the state-appointed officials heading up the départements, or so the wind industry fears. The circular, issued in March, sets out criteria for permitting turbines near radar operated by the defence forces, civil aviation authorities and the meteorological, ports and navigation services. It is designed to fill the gap while radar operators, representatives of the wind industry and national energy agency ADEME investigate potential radar interference from wind turbines and possible solutions. The circular must be reviewed within two years.

The new guidelines, based on a series of past reports by the Agence National des Fréquences (ANFR), essentially confirm previously informal rules establishing a protection zone of five to ten kilometres for turbines within line of sight of a radar and a consultation zone of up to 20 or 30 kilometres, depending on the type of radar. Though developers contested the need for such extensive zones, they say there was at least some room for interpretation and the informal rules could be contested using expert opinion since they were not validated.

Now the industry fears the circular give the guidelines more weight. "Even though the circular has no legal status, it can -- and will -- influence prefects. It has formalised procedures already applied by the radar operators," believes Jörn Schinzler of German developer Intervent. "It seems that the circular is a statement of the position of the radar operators and ANFR and not a compromise with developers," adds Joachim Steinmetz of Energiequelle, another German-owned developer.

On the other hand, the document sets out what steps must be followed during the permitting process. "We are no longer in the dark," says Steinmetz. Prefects must consult the relevant radar operator when assessing siting applications, but are not bound to follow the advice given. If operators do not respond within one month, or two for defence and civil aviation radar, it will be assumed they have no objections.

In the case of turbines within the consultation zone, the prefect must ensure that operators and developers meet and explore ways of minimising the effect on the radar, such as changing the alignment of the turbines or moving them further away. The prefect must give his final judgement within five months of receiving the application from the developer.

"It does not appear the circular will bring an end to the difficulties developers currently meet concerning the problem of radars," laments Marion Lettry of the Renewable Energy Syndicate, a lobby group. It estimates over 2200 MW of wind projects are on hold in France because of concerns about turbines causing interference on radar systems.

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