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Radar help for birds -- Avian protection

A radar system called Merlin is helping mitigate fears for birds at a pair of big wind projects near an avian migratory path on the Texas Gulf Coast. Merlin is made by DeTect, a Florida firm with roots in managing bird issues around military airfields since 1994. The system consists of two radars mounted on a flatbed trailer, with one radar arm that spins vertically to measure movement across the landscape while the other spins horizontally to measure altitude. Signals are updated every 2.2 seconds and captured by a computer. According to DeTect's Ron Merritt, faster computers have allowed Merlin to make great strides in recent years. "We can actually process the radar signal as a digital product," Merritt says. "The big magic is being able to process that signal in such a way that we can differentiate it from birds, buildings and ground clutter." Merlin is capable of automatically shutting down wind turbines if conditions suggest birds will be flying into a wind farm's path -- a rare event because birds generally fly at much higher altitudes, says Merritt. The system is used by roughly three dozen companies worldwide. DeTect also leases the system and can provide staff biologists. "Other companies have similar technology," Merritt says. "But typically what happens is they don't have the automated data collection -- they video the data and have to go back and look at it." DeTect is working on a new system that generates a higher resolution, allowing a higher degree of recognition. "We'll know whether it's an insect or a hummingbird," Merritt says. The involved wind projects are owned by Iberdrola and Babcock & Brown. They currently have a combined capacity of about 500 MW and are expected to reach 1200 MW when fully built out. Concerns over bird kills were among the challenges facing initial project permitting (Windpower Monthly, July 2008).

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