USA — Officials Work to Resolve Wind Energy, Radar Dilemma

WASHINGTON — Defense Depart­ment offi­cials are reach­ing out to acad­e­mia and the ener­gy indus­try to strike a bal­ance between its sup­port for alter­na­tive ener­gy sources and its need to pro­tect nation­al secu­ri­ty.

Dorothy Robyn, the department’s deputy under­sec­re­tary for instal­la­tions and envi­ron­ment, out­lined the dilem­ma at a hear­ing before the House Armed Ser­vices Committee’s readi­ness sub­com­mit­tee June 29.

The depart­ment strong­ly sup­ports the devel­op­ment of renew­able ener­gies – lead­ers have called America’s depen­dence on for­eign oil a nation­al secu­ri­ty issue — and it is a rec­og­nized leader in the use of solar, geot­her­mal and wind to pro­duce ener­gy, Robyn said. How­ev­er, she added, mil­i­tary lead­ers also have found that the increas­ing use of wind tur­bines is tak­ing a toll on the aging radar sys­tems the mil­i­tary uses to, among oth­er things, track threat­en­ing air­craft over the Unit­ed States.

The sit­u­a­tion was high­light­ed March 1 when the Fed­er­al Avi­a­tion Admin­is­tra­tion, which owns the radar, filed an objec­tion to a pro­posed 338-tur­bine wind farm in north-cen­tral Ore­gon on behalf of the North Amer­i­can Aero­space Defense Com­mand and U.S. North­ern Com­mand, which said the wind tur­bines were dis­rupt­ing radar. The com­mands, which are col­lo­cat­ed in Col­orado, are respon­si­ble for aero­space warn­ing and con­trol and pro­tect­ing the con­ti­nent, respec­tive­ly.

The depart­ment con­tract­ed the Mass­a­chu­setts Insti­tute of Tech­nol­o­gy to study the Ore­gon wind farm issue. MIT researchers found that the tur­bines dis­rupt­ed radar as much as 20 per­cent of the time, fre­quent­ly giv­ing false pos­i­tive read­ings, accord­ing to the report it released to the sub­com­mit­tee. Wind farms dis­rupt radar by block­ing microwave sig­nals from reach­ing intend­ed tar­gets and by cre­at­ing unwant­ed reflec­tions or “clut­ter­ing” of radar sig­nals, they said.

The depart­ment with­drew its objec­tion to the Ore­gon project, which had been in the works for five years, after MIT dis­cov­ered the prob­lems could be mit­i­gat­ed with adjust­ments to the radar set­tings and mod­i­fi­ca­tions to the sys­tems.

Most exist­ing wind tur­bines have not dis­rupt­ed mil­i­tary radar, Robyn said, but as the alter­na­tive ener­gy source grows in usage, so, too, will the dis­rup­tion prob­lems like those cre­at­ed in the Ore­gon project.

Mov­ing for­ward, Robyn said, the fed­er­al gov­ern­ment needs to iden­ti­fy such projects ear­li­er than the cur­rent 30-day noti­fi­ca­tion dead­line to mit­i­gate poten­tial prob­lems with­out undue dis­rup­tion to the projects. Also, she said, fed­er­al depart­ments and agen­cies need to give more atten­tion to the issue, and aggres­sive­ly work to upgrade the radar sys­tems, many of which were built in the 1960s.

The Defense Depart­ment has sharp­ened its focus on the issue by cre­at­ing a direc­tor of oper­a­tional ener­gy posi­tion to serve as a cen­tral point of con­tact, by reach­ing out to the ener­gy indus­try for col­lab­o­ra­tion, and by direct­ing instal­la­tion com­man­ders to engage with local and region­al plan­ning offi­cials on projects in devel­op­ment, Robyn said.

U.S. Depart­ment of Defense
Office of the Assis­tant Sec­re­tary of Defense (Pub­lic Affairs)