Defence chiefs threw the future of East Anglia’s wind energy industry into confusion last night after claiming that wind turbines could be a threat to national security.
Experts say the MoD now objects to about 50pc of applications to build onshore wind turbines because of concerns they affect the performance of military radar.
It comes as plans for a windfarm at Norfolk sports car manufacturer Lotus’s test track were turned down by councillors over fears the structures would cause “unacceptable” interference to the air defence radar at Trimingham – 32 miles away on the north Norfolk coast – and could result in a “detrimental effect on national security”.
An MoD spokesman said yesterday that it objected to the plans because the turbines would have been in direct line of sight of the radar.
Last night, Chris Tomlinson, of the British Wind Energy Association, said there had been an increase in the number of MoD objections to wind energy schemes in recent years, sometimes at a crucial stage in the planning process or at the 11th hour.
“This is potentially seriously damaging to investor confidence in the UK renewable energy market and throws the future of other wind turbine projects into doubt,” he said.
Proposals to build three 120m turbines at Lotus’s Hethel site were turned down on Tuesday after the MoD objected.
In a letter to planners, it said that where rotating blades were visible to a radar they created radar returns which could appear as a solid moving object, similar to an aircraft.
“Radar operators will therefore be unable to distinguish between a genuine radar return from a moving aircraft and the rotating turbine blades,” the letter stated.
“Trials conducted by the MoD in 2004 and 2005 on the effects of wind turbines on radar systems have identified that even solitary turbines can significantly reduce operational effectiveness when in line of sight.
“In this case the predicted interference which the proposed turbines will create has been assessed as likely to have an unacceptable effect on the radar coverage provided by Trimingham and in turn could result in a detrimental effect on national security.”
Last night the MoD refused to confirm or deny whether existing operational wind turbines in the region, approved before the MoD’s trials, such as those at West Somerton or Swaffham, have a detrimental impact on the radar.
The spokeswoman said: “The operational turbines in the area were approved and constructed prior to the air defence trials of January and August 2005. However, if we were to assess them today and they were in line of sight, an objection would be raised based on the evidence in the trial reports.
“As for the effect of the operational turbines in the surrounding areas on air defence radar, this information is classified and, if released, could breach homeland security.”
Green-energy company Ecotricity had hoped to build the turbines at Lotus’s Hethel site and now plans to appeal the decision.
The MoD said that it plans to upgrade the Trimingham radar next year. The spokeswoman said: “Radars have a life span of about 20 years and we are looking to upgrade the one at Trimingham. We would hope the new one would be more wind turbine friendly.”
The Trimingham radar hit the national headlines last year after the MoD admitted that a fault inside the dome was responsible for causing electrical problems with dozens of cars. At the time the MoD said it was considering claims for compensation after an inquiry found the Type 93 radar had been “out of alignment”.
2 November 2007
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