Commercial wind turbines could cause emergency communications systems to fail, leaving communities in the area at risk, according to a Clay Banks Windmill Planning Committee and Southern Door Fire Board member.
Although wind energy systems do not appear to disrupt the current generation of analog type communication systems, the impact on digital voice communications systems remains unknown, Doug Weimer told the committee at its regular meeting Aug. 31.
The impact of wind energy systems on digital communications systems is difficult to document because only a few of those systems are now being used.
However, he said it has been proven that wind energy systems could interfere with digital signals. Any obstacle could cause the failure of digital communications lines.
“The county is burying its head in the sand,” Weimer said. “There’s no action being taken to protect communications among local (emergency dispatch) departments.”
Digital signals will be required for all county emergency communications by 2022 to meet federal guidelines.
That change is being made because digital signals can be split into additional signals, he said.
Additional signals will be needed to accompany an increase in the number of communications lines that will be needed in the future, he said.
In addition, because of the configuration of Door County’s location on the peninsula, it could be impossible to reach more than a single radio tower anywhere except from a high point of land.
That means any obstruction in a communications line could cause emergency digital communications to fail.
As a result, Weimer said municipalities could be forced to address problems involving emergency communications lines on their own, particularly if the county’s Resource Planning Committee failed to look at them now.
Weimer said he already has contacted the Door County Communications Department earlier in the week to learn who would cover the cost to repair or replace communications lines if wind energy systems cause them to fail.
He also questioned whether individual fire, police and other departments will have to deal with those costs.
“If the county doesn’t address the issue in its county ordinance, towns will have no choice but to address it,” Weimer said. “Being proactive will certainly be preferable to being reactive later.”
He wants to look at whether operators should cover the cost to address interference and respond to wind energy systems’ impact on two-way communications systems and pagers, as well as TV, phone, satellite dish and other forms of communications.
Mike Johnson, chairman of the committee, also questioned whether the county will deal with the issue now or after it has spent millions of dollars to correct the problems that may be caused by wind energy systems.
Weimer said the county needs to look beyond the current ordinance proposal.
Property owners also need to look at the issue. Standard insurance policies will not cover the cost of loses should wind turbines need to be removed.
Even if developers have deep pockets, he said, they may not have enough money to address removal of turbines.
The Southern Door Fire Departments or any of its four municipalities could end up suing the county for failure to act and for negligence, Weimer said.
“If the county does not address and correct the issue of countywide coverage for emergency agency communications in the county ordinance, we will have no choice but to address it in our town ordinance,” Weimer said. “It would be regrettable if the county does not address this issue now, before the problem arises.”
By Kurt Rentmeester
5 September 2007
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