Springfield State Journal Register

September 29, 2006

Defense Department’s wind farm report is a lot of huff and puff


WASHINGTON - The Defense Department Thursday released a congressionally mandated report that said construction of wind farms should proceed as long as the turbines don’t interfere with military radar.

But wind energy advocates said the report leaves many questions unanswered.

The Defense Department “fully supports the development of wind farms and other sources of renewable energy, so long as the safety of our airspace is not compromised,” Army Lt. Col. Brian Maka, a department spokesman, said in releasing the report.

By working with the Federal Aviation Administration to evaluate wind farm proposals on a case-by-case basis, “we ensure that all mitigation techniques are explored and developers have the greatest opportunity to build the projects without delay, and without impact to our air defense radar,” Maka said. “We will continue to support FAA in their practice of working with developers to achieve mutually satisfactory solutions.”

Wind energy proponents had hoped the report would end the uncertainty and, in some cases, delays in construction of some wind farms in the Midwest.

Earlier this year, Sen. Dick Durbin, D-Ill., said he was told by the FAA that it had stopped work on 12 wind energy projects in the Midwest, including in Illinois. However, some projects have since been allowed to proceed. In central Illinois, the Twin Groves wind farm near Bloomington avoided a delay and has moved forward.

The FAA recently approved 614 applications for individual wind turbines that total more than 1,000 megawatts of new wind energy, enough to power about 250,000 homes, according to the American Wind Energy Association.

“Decades of experience tell us that wind and radar can co-exist,” said Randall Swisher, the association’s executive director, who complained that the report is incomplete and gives only brief mention of existing ways to mitigate radar interference by turbines.

Association spokeswoman Christine Real de Azua said the report’s impact “is not likely to be large, but we’re not happy with the fact that there may be a perception problem.”

In June, the Sierra Club filed suit against the Defense Department for blocking construction of wind farms by failing to complete a congressionally required study of the turbines’ impact on radar.

“The good news is that there is nothing in the report to prevent the construction of new windmills from proceeding as long as proper siting and mitigation measures are taken,” said Dave Hamilton, director of the Sierra Club’s global warming and energy program. “Unfortunately, the Department of Defense’s report fails to answer its own questions about the effectiveness of mitigation measures and thus is not authoritative.”

The 62-page report was released almost five months after Congress had asked for it to be done, and as Congress raced to adjourn for the election season. In an attempt to force the release of the long-delayed report, Durbin and Sen. Barack Obama, D-Ill., in July blocked a Senate vote on a Defense Department nominee.

“We are currently reviewing the report and have asked the Defense Department to tell us the impact of the report’s findings on wind farms in the state,” the senators said in a joint statement. “We will lift the hold on Mr. Robert Wilkie once we receive a formal assurance from the administration that the development of wind farms in Illinois will not be stopped by this report.”

Wilkie has been nominated to be assistant secretary for legislative affairs. He currently is acting assistant secretary.

Congress required the study in an amendment by Senate Armed Services Committee Chairman John Warner, R-Va., to the fiscal 2006 defense authorization bill. Some wind power proponents suggested he inserted the provision to try to block a controversial project off Cape Cod, Mass.

Warner, who has denied that assertion, had no immediate comment on the report, which called for a more comprehensive analysis of the Cape Cod project.

Dori Meinert can be reached at (202) 737-7686 or dori.meinert@copleydc.om.