Solano County’s planning commissioners did the right thing in delaying any decision on whether a windmill farm should be erected in the Montezuma Hills, but one wonders if the county is not putting off the inevitable denial of such projects.
Wind turbines and radar systems do not get along too well. At least, they haven’t to date.
Adding 100 more such machines to the hillsides so close to Travis Air Force Base makes military experts nervous. It should make the rest of us very uncomfortable as well, since the base represents more than a billion dollars a year to the local economy.
On Thursday night, the county Planning Commission gave proponents of two projects more time. It’s not exactly clear what will be accomplished over the course of the next eight weeks.
The Air Force believes its new aircraft-control radar, called ASR-11, must be installed and operating before new windmills are considered.
It will take some time, it would seem, to determine whether proponents’ new technology can avert the conflict already experienced by radar systems that cover areas with wind turbines. What good is two months?
This is a serious matter. In some cases, the Air Force reports, the blades of the turbines may cause radar systems to “lose sight” of smaller planes. Some images appear to drop off the radar screens, while other images may appear when aircraft are not actually there.
It is an extraordinary situation when the U.S. Air Force steps into the public policy arena in local affairs. In the past, even when a military base has been threatened by local land-use decisions, the Pentagon has chosen to stay out of local politics.
In this case, the Air Force’s position has been clearly and reasonably injected into the public debate.
And at this point, until further study (which certainly will take more than eight weeks), the Air Force wants no part of wind turbines.
This is not only a military safety issue, but a civilian one.
Private aircraft come under the system operated by Travis Air Force Base. Those small aircraft are the ones likely to disappear and reappear on the radar screens.
It remains to be seen what, if any, good another delay will do to resolve this conflict. It is doubtful that there will be any new information when the Planning Commission reconvenes to hear this issue again in two months.
Wind is a natural resource, and the conditions in the Montezuma Hills and other south county hillsides are exceptionally good for producing electricity.
We certainly do not want to close the door forever on this renewable energy supply.
But at this point, the peril posed to the air base’s radar system seems too risky.
8 October 2007
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