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Wind energy projects might move forward - Several in state have faced roadblocks because turbines could disrupt military radar

Milwaukee Journal Sentinel|Thomas Content|June 23, 2006
WisconsinGeneralSafety

Some of an estimated $1 billion in Wisconsin wind energy projects that have been stalled for months because of fears that they could interfere with military radar might be allowed to move ahead soon.


 Wind Plant

Wind turbines are in action at Monfort Wind Farm near the Town of Cobb in Iowa County in this 2005 photo. Other Wisconsin wind power projects have been delayed because turbines might interfere with military radar systems. But the projects are gaining federal attention after recent letters from members of Congress and Midwest governors.

 "There has been some tremendous movement off of dead center," said Bruce Beard, a Federal Aviation Administration official in Texas. "There just has been tremendous movement in clearing up these roadblocks. . . . I'm semi- optimistic that the logjam is fixing to be broken."

Spurred by high fossil-fuel prices, federal tax credits and a growing political and public appetite for renewable power, developers are scouring Wisconsin and other states for suitable spots to put up wind turbines to generate electricity.

But that quest for energy independence collided with homeland security concerns, stalling wind projects across the Upper Midwest. At issue are concerns that turbines' rotating blades can block the ability of radar ... more [truncated due to possible copyright]

     

 Wind Plant

Wind turbines are in action at Monfort Wind Farm near the Town of Cobb in Iowa County in this 2005 photo. Other Wisconsin wind power projects have been delayed because turbines might interfere with military radar systems. But the projects are gaining federal attention after recent letters from members of Congress and Midwest governors.

 "There has been some tremendous movement off of dead center," said Bruce Beard, a Federal Aviation Administration official in Texas. "There just has been tremendous movement in clearing up these roadblocks. . . . I'm semi- optimistic that the logjam is fixing to be broken."

Spurred by high fossil-fuel prices, federal tax credits and a growing political and public appetite for renewable power, developers are scouring Wisconsin and other states for suitable spots to put up wind turbines to generate electricity.

But that quest for energy independence collided with homeland security concerns, stalling wind projects across the Upper Midwest. At issue are concerns that turbines' rotating blades can block the ability of radar systems to track or intercept suspicious planes.

An aircraft surveillance radar is located in Horicon, one of the windiest spots in the state. Several major wind power projects were to begin near Horicon this spring.

Beard said in a recent interview that he believes projects in Wisconsin will be able to move ahead.

"There have been a lot of people way up the food chain that have all of a sudden taken an interest in what's going on," he said. "That's what's helping move things along."

The attention at higher levels of the FAA and other agencies came after letters in recent weeks from members of Congress and governors from Upper Midwest states, including Wisconsin.

Some projects still on hold

For now, construction still can't start on two projects in Fond du Lac and Dodge counties, among others. Michael Donahue of Midwest Wind Energy said the radar concern is the only factor delaying construction of his company's 37-turbine project, Butler Ridge.

"Our project is in suspended animation until we get a response - and the problem is we're not sure when the response is going to come, so we're hanging in the balance here," he said.

Donahue said Midwest Energy canceled an agreement to sell power from his project to Milwaukee-based We Energies because of the uncertainty over when construction could start.

Also in limbo is the largest state project halted by the FAA action, the 133-turbine Forward Wind Energy Center in Dodge and Fond du Lac counties.

"Not hearing anything, and not even knowing what the time frame is to hear anything, it's very difficult to run a project when you've got that situation," said Neil Palmer, spokesman for Chicago-based Invenergy LLC, the developer of the Forward project.

Forward plans to provide electricity to four state utilities to help them comply with a new state law requiring that 10% of the state's electricity come from renewable sources by 2015.

Beard, national operations manager of obstruction evaluation services at the FAA, said Invenergy has agreed to move three or four turbines that created the most concern for the Horicon-area radar. Palmer said the developer is willing to move turbines to fix the problem but added that because the FAA and Air Force are continuing to review the project, it isn't known whether any turbines would have to be moved.

But state projects that are close to construction won't have to wait until a national Defense Department report to Congress is completed, Beard said, because the FAA has gotten consent from the Defense Department to move ahead.

Heightened security

The radar issue emerged because of the stepped-up role the U.S. military has taken in the surveillance of U.S. airspace since the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks. Before the attacks, the Air Force and Air National Guard monitored planes flying across U.S. borders. Since the attacks, heightened concerns have led to monitoring of the nation's entire airspace.

The Air Force uses its own radar equipment and FAA radars to track and potentially intercept planes that lose radio contact with FAA air traffic controllers, Beard said. But wind turbines can block the signal.

Michael Vickerman, executive director of the clean-energy advocacy group Renew Wisconsin, and Laurie Jodziewicz, spokeswoman for the American Wind Energy Association, said that based on experience in Britain, modifications can be made to radar software to address the issue. A letter to U.S. Sen. Russ Feingold (D-Wis.) from the Department of Defense signals that the Pentagon's report to Congress on the topic may address such changes.

The radar issue was a key topic at this year's annual wind power conference, held this month in Pittsburgh. The attention has become more prominent at higher levels within key federal agencies, including the Department of Energy, where the assistant secretary of energy efficiency and renewable energy, a former wind developer, addressed the conference and expressed optimism that projects would be allowed to move forward, Vickerman said.

Vickerman estimates the value of the half-dozen projects on hold in Wisconsin at more than $1 billion. That includes the Forward and Butler Ridge projects, as well as others that are farther away from construction in Calumet, Columbia, Dane and Brown counties.

"Days and weeks are ticking away, and we still face the risk of many of these projects not being able to get built next year because of this delay," he said.

Developers facing delays are worried that they will not be able to buy turbines in time to start construction promptly after the radar issue is resolved, he said. There's pressure to build wind projects this year and next because a federal tax credit that helps wind power developers is set to expire at the end of next year.

Heavy workload

Vickerman said that even if the moratorium is lifted, the FAA is understaffed, making it hard to take quick action on pending permit applications.

Beard confirmed that his agency's workload has mushroomed, particularly as wind developers look to get in the queue before the tax credits expire. His office reviewed about 1,300 turbines in 2004, and that amount grew to 4,100 last year. This year, the agency is on a pace to study about 10,000 turbines, he said.

Donahue, of Midwest Wind Energy, said he was told a review of his project is expected to be completed by FAA and Defense Department over the next month. He said he'd like to start construction this fall, but he still needs a permit and an agreement with We Energies or another state utility to buy the electricity.

"So that may be optimistic, given the fact that we're sitting here in late June in limbo," Donahue said.


tcontent@journalsentinel.com

 

Content truncated due to possible copyright. Use source link for full article.


Source:http://www.jsonline.com/story…

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