Peoria Journal Star

June 8, 2006

Wind farm supporters charge politics
Some projects in limbo while feds study turbines' effect on defense radar

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WASHINGTON, d.c. - Wind power proponents remain puzzled and perturbed by a Defense Department study that now, two decades since wind farms and radar systems first coexisted, is delaying alternative energy projects.

They charge that the study, specifically aimed at determining the effect of turbines as tall as 40 stories on military radar, is motivated more by politics and personal agendas than by national security.

Still, most wind farms proposed for central Illinois - even the Twin Groves project in McLean County, which will start construction in a couple weeks and be one of the largest in the nation when finished - have for now escaped federal "stop-work" orders issued to about a dozen similar projects throughout the Midwest.

Sen. Dick Durbin, D-Ill., said his staff has been told the study will be completed by the end of the month. The report was originally ordered to be finished during the first four months of this year.

Lt. Cmdr. Sean Kelly at the North American Aerospace Defense Command (NORAD) in Colorado said preliminary study results would be available by the end of next week.

"The sooner, the better. There's a lot riding on it," said Durbin, noting that uncertainty created by the study has spooked wind farm investors and developers.

"If this is a serious issue related to radar safety and security, then by all means, let's figure out what the answer is," Durbin said. "But if there's a political agenda involved here, where people are trying to dream up ways to avoid wind turbines in their backyard, then I don't have any patience with them."

Congress last fall directed the Defense Department to study whether wind turbines interfere with military radar in a one-sentence provision in the massive bill authorizing defense spending.

The mandate was inserted by Senate Armed Services Committee Chairman John Warner, R-Va., who has opposed a controversial wind project off Cape Cod, Mass., a vacation spot for the rich and powerful.

On Wednesday, Warner spokesman John Ullyot denied the senator inserted the study requirement to block the Cape Cod project.

"It's not true. Sen. Warner is a longtime supporter of wind energy. He understands that as large wind farm projects are contemplated . . . there are a few issues that we need to look at before letting these types of projects go forward," Ullyot said, adding that Warner's provision didn't require construction to be halted.

Until the study is completed, however, the Federal Aviation Administration has been issuing notices that effectively stop construction of new turbines within the scope of radar.

"It was not a problem before and obviously this whole issue was introduced to delay this project off Cape Cod and everybody else gets caught in this situation," said Michael Polsky, president and chief executive officer of Invenergy, a Chicago-based company with projects in LaSalle County and Wisconsin that have been blocked.

Polsky said the FAA letters have put the proposed LaSalle County farm in limbo, but another developer for an area wind farm already has received notice from the FAA, satisfied the agency's concerns and been issued a permit to begin construction.

Michael Skelley, chief developer with Texas-based Horizon Wind Energy, said his company received an FAA notice regarding potential problems with the proposed $600 million Twin Groves wind farm in Saybrook about two months ago.

But, he said Wednesday from the American Wind Energy Association (AWEA) annual conference in Pittsburgh, the FAA decided to issue the permit anyway and did so last week, allowing for construction of the 240 turbines, each 260 feet tall, to begin soon.

"Our biggest immediate concern has been the Twin Groves project and we're out of the woods, so to speak, on that," Skelley said. "In general, there is a commitment on the part of a lot of people in Washington and the regional FAA offices to work through this issue."

Indeed, the FAA permit application requires wind farm developers to examine the possible effect of turbines on radar and microwaves, said Wanda Davies of Navitas Energy, which is planning an 80-turbine wind farm in Woodford County.

"It will be addressed ahead of time before we get to construction," she said. "We're moving ahead with permitting with the expectation that things will be resolved."

Midwest Wind Energy has taken a similar approach for planned wind farms scheduled for construction in Bureau County next year. It already has built the 33-turbine first phase of the Crescent Ridge farm near Tiskilwa.

While the possibility of radar interference has been widely known, numerous solutions also exist, said AWEA spokeswoman Christine Real de Azua. "There's no need for this kind of blanket approach."

 

Dori Meinert can be reached at (202) 737-7686 or dori.meinert@copleydc.com. Matt Buedel can be reached at 686-3154 or mbuedel@pjstar.com.