Airspace, Radar and Wind Energy

Wind Turbines and Radar Can Coexist

The wind industry strongly supports responsible, effective actions designed to identify and address any potential conflicts with airspace and radar due to proposed wind farms. Wind turbines, radar, and military and civilian airspace needs can coexist. Experience shows that technical case-by-case analysis of potential airspace and radar interactions can resolve some concerns, and mitigation measures should be able to resolve others. Negotiations between the stakeholders can find the best path for each project. We will continue to work with the U.S. government to address this issue so the wind industry can work for the benefit of America’s economy, environment and energy security.

Decades of experience in developing wind turbine facilities in the U.S. and around the world, often near civilian or military radar installations, has demonstrated that wind turbines and radar can coexist.

Depending on location, wind turbines may interfere with some types of civilian and military radar, causing “clutter” or other interference. And wind energy developers have to be cognizant of military and civilian airspace needs as well.

The wind industry recognizes these challenges and respects the paramount importance of national security and air safety. Given the variety of radars, as well as varying airspace needs, there is not a silver bullet solution that can solve every potential conflict.

The goal is to establish a suite of workable solutions (“mitigation toolbox”) that can be consulted to find the best option in each individual case. We support resolving such concerns as quickly as possible. We also believe that rapid development of domestic energy resources is vital to national security.

Current procedures

The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) has legal jurisdiction over structures 200 feet tall and above. Utility scale turbines are approaching 500 feet tall, so developers must submit an application to the FAA for each turbine for a hazard determination prior to construction.
The FAA will either issue a Determination of No Hazard, in which case construction can begin, or a Determination of Presumed Hazard, which may initiate a process of negotiation and appeal. Due to concerns about premature public release of proprietary information, this engagement often happens late in the development process.

Other federal agencies with radar assets, such as the Department of Defense (DOD), the Department of Homeland Security (DHS), and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), are notified of proposed projects through the FAA process and have the opportunity to raise objections with the FAA on which a presumed hazard determination may be based

Are There Solutions?

A study written by an expert scientific panel commissioned by DHS concluded in 2008 that “there is no fundamental physical constraint that prohibits the accurate detection of aircraft and weather patterns around wind farms.” (Wind Farms and Radar JSR-08-125) JASON. The MITRE Corporation (January 2008.) A variety of government commissioned reports have identified technical solutions on the radar side and options on the wind farm side. Some of these solutions have been demonstrated in the real world. Software and hardware solutions have been implemented at several locations including at Travis Air Force Base in California, at the Fossil Radar in Oregon, and in South Texas at the Kingsville Naval Air Station. And Dyess Air Force Base in Abilene, Texas, is actually powered entirely by renewable energy, including wind energy.

Turbines can be found just west of the base as seen in this photo:


In addition, with the support of industry, beginning in 2012, the Department of Energy along with DHS, DOD, FAA and NOAA are field testing several off-the-shelf technologies to validate additional options to mitigate potential impacts.
Where Do We Go From Here?
The growth necessary to achieve 20% or more of our nation’s electricity from wind is unlikely to be achieved without resolving radar and airspace concerns. And these concerns cannot be resolved without cooperation between the wind industry and federal agencies. To that end, the wind industry is seeking to (1) improve the process for engaging federal agencies (2) deploy existing mitigation and (3) work on a robust research agenda to prove the validity of technical mitigation solutions.

With respect to improved engagement, the DOD took a gigantic step toward improved engagement with the creation of the DOD Energy Siting Clearinghouse. The Clearinghouse serves as a one-stop shop for developers to ensure that all entities within the Department who have a need to comment on a project do so and then provides the developer with a consolidated response. The Clearinghouse is also the entity that helps lead mitigation discussions when potential concerns are raised. The rules governing DOD engagement were revised in 2011 to allow for early consultation with appropriation privacy protections and to establishing timelines for DOD responses, among other improvements.

Aside for the research noted above, the wind energy industry is engaging in research of its own, including stealth turbine coatings that would reduce the visibility of turbines to radar.

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Last Updated May 2012

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