United Kingdom

United Kingdom

Ministry of Defence under attack -- Radar and wind stations

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The Royal Society, Britain's leading independent scientific think-tank, has weighed into the debate about wind energy and the potential effect of wind turbines on defence radar. It warns that objections by the Ministry of Defence (MoD) to new wind farms put the government's renewables targets at risk. The society points out that last year the MoD opposed nearly half of all proposed wind farms because of concerns about interference with air defence and civil radar.

Professor David Wallace of the Royal Society is urging Ivor Caplin, the minister responsible for defence estates, to speed up progress towards finding solutions to the problem. He says: "Current MoD policy appears to reject any wind development application within 74 kilometres of air defence radar. With 13 such installations, this effective moratorium covers a fairly significant area of the UK. Understandably, the MoD has concerns over the effects that wind farms may have on radar in terms of personnel safety, especially for low flying aircraft, and the potential consequences of compromised radars with regard to national security. It nevertheless concerns me that the restrictions imposed by the MoD are at odds with the rest of Europe, where only Germany imposes a ban, which is set at five kilometres."


The Royal Society's intervention is welcomed by the British Wind Energy Association (BWEA). It points out that in 2003, the MoD objected to 413 of the 861 pre-application wind farm proposals submitted (48%). In addition, the MoD's response times to developer inquiries has risen to six months as opposed to BWEA's target of three weeks. "Both military and civil aviation stakeholders are adopting an onerous precautionary principle which continues to severely constrain wind projects, both on and offshore," says the BWEA's Chris Tomlinson. He says he is encouraged by the MoD's recent actions to deal with the issue. But the real difficulty is overcoming "institutional hurdles" to persuade them to move wind energy up the agenda, he says.

Meantime, BWEA is keen to see studies commissioned to assess advance radar filters such as the AMS Advanced Digital Tracker. While expensive, this may provide a step towards a solution in many areas, it says. It is also looking for other solutions, but points out that it is at a disadvantage since all those with expertise on radar issues remain within the military and civil aviation field.

lacking momentum

A steering group to resolve the issue was set up in 2001, composed of the wind industry and aviation stakeholders. Yet after more than two years it is running out of momentum. Tomlinson says he does not believe the group is going to unlock this issue with its current work program. "The focus needs to be clearly on opening up technical mitigation solutions."

From Defence Estates at the Ministry of Defence, Julian Chafer is angry at the way in which the MoD has been portrayed in the press. "Some of the comments I have seen have been disingenuous to say the least," he told the wind industry at its offshore conference in London in early March. "I have sat in meetings with BWEA representatives who commended the MoD over the improvements we have made over the past few weeks and months. It leaves me puzzled."

Chafer admits that since 1996, out of 2872 proposals, the MoD registered objections to 1319. "It is a significant number. But when there are only 83 wind farms in the UK and the MoD has raised no objection to over 1500 proposals, it does suggest that we are not the hurdle that people think we are." The proposals cleared by the MoD in 2003 would provide enough capacity to meet the 2010 target for onshore wind, he says. "What happens to those that we don't object to? They are not getting built. Some of them may well be wasting everybody's time." The ministry is currently objecting to around one-third of proposals, he says.

He concedes that turn-around times for dealing with proposals are twice as long as the target six to eight weeks. This is due in part to lack of resources; new staff are being recruited, he says, but the sites being considered are becoming more problematic. "The ripe fruit has fallen off of the tree long ago. We are now talking about proposals that have a number of issues, not just for the MoD but for other consultees as well."

He asks developers to be sensible about which proposals to submit. It is in everybody's interests if the MoD's scarce resources can be concentrated on the projects that are more likely to go forward, he says.

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