By Thomas Content
Two Wisconsin wind power projects that were stalled by concerns that rotating turbines would interfere with military radar have received the go-ahead from the Federal Aviation Administration.
Among them is one of the largest wind farms on the drawing board in Wisconsin: the Forward Wind Energy Center in Fond du Lac and Dodge counties.
The Forward project, being developed by Invenergy of Chicago, was moving toward construction this year when it ran into a roadblock of opposition.
Permits have been issued for both the Forward project, a 133-turbine development near the Horicon Marsh, as well as the Butler Ridge wind farm in Dodge County, said Bruce Beard, the FAA manager in Texas responsible for the office that issues permits.
“The (permits) are through. We are absolutely through with them, and they have got clearance to start building them,” Beard said Friday.
A bureaucratic logjam was created by a provision in a congressional bill that wind energy companies say was drafted to create more hurdles for a high-profile and controversial offshore wind project near Nantucket, Mass. The law required the Department of Defense to issue a report assessing the impact that development of wind turbines would have on military radar.
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, terrorist 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.
But the rotating blades of wind turbines can interfere with radar systems’ ability to monitor low-flying planes.
Beard said that in the case of the Horicon radar, a wind power project already in the area has created problems for the radar, but the FAA concluded that adding more turbines won’t aggravate the problem.
The Wisconsin projects are among many across the Midwest that were stalled by the radar concerns. In recent weeks, however, permits have been granted to projects not only in Wisconsin, but also Minnesota and South Dakota, the Associated Press reported.
The Forward project has received all of its regulatory permits, but the developer still awaits resolution of a lawsuit filed by project opponents.
Those foes have raised concerns that the wind turbines would be placed too close to the Horicon Marsh, a national wildlife refuge. To address that concern, state regulators required that turbines be placed at least two miles from the edge of the marsh. After losing their first appeal in Dodge County Circuit Court, the opponents have appealed to the state Court of Appeals.
The wind-radar issue stalled development of wind power projects at a time when demand for renewable energy is on the rise, sparked by high fossil-fuel prices, federal tax credits and a new state law requiring more use of renewable energy.
The Forward wind project 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.
The status of the Butler Ridge project wasn’t clear Friday. A representative of Midwest Wind Energy couldn’t be reached for comment but said in June that the FAA permit was the last hurdle needed to negotiate a deal with a Wisconsin utility that would buy power from the 37-turbine project.
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