WIND:

DOD enters landmark agreement to allow turbines near Texas base

The Department of Defense and the Navy have signed a sweeping agreement with a private wind developer that will allow a 100-turbine wind farm to be built in south Texas without the spinning wind turbines interfering with nearby Navy jet pilot training operations along the Gulf Coast.

The formal memorandum of agreement (MOA) will allow Chicago-based E.ON Climate & Renewables North America LLC to build up to 100 turbines at the proposed Petronila Wind Farm site in Nueces County, Texas.

In exchange, E.ON will pay the DOD $750,000 to allow the Pentagon to research and test possible solutions to protect aircraft from radar-disrupting interference caused by spinning wind turbines.

The agreement also commits the company to build no more than 100 turbines and restrict their placement within a carefully defined boundary. In addition, the company has agreed to limit the height of each turbine to no more than 500 feet in an effort to reduce radar interference, according to the MOA.

The MOA is the second such agreement this year that the Navy and DOD have signed with a wind developer seeking to build an industrial-scale wind farm near Naval Air Station Kingsville, a major training ground for jet pilots. The deal will also help avoid interfering with NAS Corpus Christi.

The Navy and DOD signed a similar agreement in April with the Texas Wind Group that allows the wind developer to erect wind turbines at a planned wind farm in Kleberg County, about 11 miles south of NAS Kingsville.

A formal ceremony marking the signing of the agreement was held this morning at NAS Kingsville in Kingsville, Texas, said Kenneth Hess, a Navy spokesman in Washington, D.C.

"The Navy is at the forefront of alternative energy use and production, and the Navy supports such projects when they are compatible with our mission," Rear Adm. Jack Scorby, who signed the MOA, said in a statement. "The agreement will enable this wind turbine project to move forward while putting measures in place that work to preserve vital pilot training capability at NAS Kingsville and NAS Corpus Christi."

The agreement establishes a specific set of procedures the Navy and E.ON will use to safely curtail the use of wind turbines when and if needed, and to document and address emerging concerns. In addition, the Navy, DOD and Petronila Wind Farm developers will form a joint working group to study the effectiveness of the mitigation measures implemented.

Mitigation efforts could include upgrades that allow the Navy radars to more accurately detect aircraft, optimizing radars to "ignore" signals received from wind turbines, incorporating new systems that fill in radar gaps and other technical modifications, according to the DOD.

"This agreement is a collaborative effort that proves the military and the wind industry can find solutions that protect bases and still allow responsible development," Steve Trenholm, E.ON's chief executive, said in a statement.

The wind farm is still in the development stage, said E.ON spokesman Matt Tulis, and the company has no timetable for when construction would begin or when the wind farm would begin producing power.

Radar interference has been a major concern in recent years near military bases as more wind farms are built under the flight paths of these facilities.

The issue came to a head in 2010 when plans for a massive Oregon wind farm were put on hold because of military concerns about radar interference. DOD eventually gave the project the go-ahead after it found a way of filtering out the radar interference using an algorithm designed by the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (ClimateWire, May 27, 2011).

But military interference remains a key concern for developers given that DOD uses more than 30 million acres of land -- much of it in sunny and windy spaces that are prime for renewable energy projects -- and its flight routes and radar systems have an even greater footprint across the United States (Greenwire, Nov. 9, 2011).

There are several major concerns associated with radar interference and the whirring of turbine blades.

Among them, the wind turbine blades can create "clutter" that obscures radar coverage over wind farms. The blades can also "shadow" low-flying aircraft before the turbine's rotors, preventing radar operators from knowing what aircraft, flight pattern, speed or altitude was in the area, and creating an obvious security concern at military bases.

However, the military is a big supporter of renewables development, and the latest agreement will allow the DOD "to work cooperatively to meet the desired goals of supporting military operations and readiness simultaneously with the production of renewable energy," according to the MOA.

Click here to read the memorandum of agreement.

Streater writes from Colorado Springs, Colo.

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