As mentioned in our July 1, 2011 post entitled “Wind Turbines Effect on Radar Systems and Aviation Security,” the wind energy and aviation security sectors continue to struggle towards common ground, but signs of government agency cooperation with both developers and one another reveal that change is in the works.

The Federal Aviation Administration certainly has its eye on aviation safety and security concerns, as wind turbines may impact radar dependant air traffic and often fall within FAA jurisdiction over construction projects proximate to an airfield or over 200 feet tall. To help ease concerns, FAA has even mandated contribution to radar development efforts as a condition for siting approval. Similar worries have been voiced by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration pointing out that wind turbines often disrupt registration of weather events, such as areas of high precipitation, causing potentially dangerous forecasting and weather tracking obscurities.

Wind energy industry developers understand the agencies’ concerns. To put the technological issue with wind turbine interference in perspective, the technical director with Raytheon explains that “a wind turbine can look like a 747 on final approach” and they “don’t want to have the software eliminate a real 747,” which is a difficult hurdle to surmount. As a result, this issue will remain contentious for both the commercial and business aircraft industries until these concerns are addressed.

United States defense and military agencies maintain that wherever there is a threat and concern caused by radar interference, this concern trumps the push to erect wind energy farms. The Department of Defense has been accused of “foot-dragging” after missing two deadlines pertaining to the impact of wind farming on military operations, and has been criticized regarding the last minute blockage of a Caithness Energy project in Shepherds Flat, Oregon after the company had the project vetted by the Air Force years earlier. Although this project is now on track to becoming the world’s largest wind energy farm, the skein of bureaucracy has been a subject of criticism.  In response, the Department of Defense has changed course and begun to develop a timely, transparent review process through the DOD Energy Siting Clearinghouse, a “one-stop shop” within the DOD for developers and other government agencies.

A current and unique case to watch is that of prospective offshore wind farms on Virginia’s Outer Continental Shelf. Recently, the Virginia Offshore Wind Coalition was pleased to receive results from a Department of Defense assessment identifying 18 of 25 proposed optimum wind harnessing tracts as “compatible with military needs and rules so long as certain [unspecified] guidelines are met.” These wind corridors were of particular importance to the Department of Defense due to both the Norfolk Naval Station, the world’s largest naval base, and a NASA launch facility being in the vicinity. With multiple bids on the table from both turbine farm and energy transmission developers, many are hopeful that the lengthy review process might be nearing its end.

As this issue progresses please check back to this blog for future posts.

Special thanks to Sullivan and Worcester’s Alex Kellenberg, environmental intern, for preparing this post.