Conceerns over the effect of windfarms on air traffic control radars are likely to play a crucial, possibly decisive, role in the planning inquiry.
The MoD has put on record its “implacable opposition” to the proposals, citing recent studies suggesting they would be “highly detrimental” to the provision of a safe air traffic service.
The findings, it argues, are particularly relevant to the three proposals under review as all will be in the line of sight of two radars at RAF Spadeadam Electronic Warfare Range.
Spadeadam, which is used to train aircrew to evade radar-guided missiles, is one of a kind in the UK and is seen as essential to the development of tactics.
Given the concerns – combined with the potential effects on its own radar systems – Newcastle International Airport is also objecting to all applications until a reliable solution can be provided.
Similar objections have been lodged by NATS (En Route) Plc air traffic management, which has called the proposals unacceptable, and claimed they present insurmountable problems.
Speaking at Tuesday’s meeting, counsel for the MoD Philip Coppel outlined how the ministry had advanced its knowledge of windfarms in recent years.
At the time of assessing Green Rigg and Ray, they were thought to have only a marginal effect on radar, but since then, a number of “alarming” findings had triggered a more robust approach. While looking at the Steadings proposal, therefore, Green Rigg and Ray were reconsidered.
Mr Coppel explained that windfarms created a “shadow region” which could mask primary radar responses.
The motion of the turbines also created “clutter”, displayed to radar operators, and no distinction could be made between radar returns from the turbine blades and those from real aircraft.
When aircrew elected to fly under flight information service, the process whereby controllers issued warnings could also be compromised.
On the matter of geographical location, Mr Coppel suggested low flying would be obstructed by the turbines, limiting the realism of training exercises.
Amec considers the MoD’s U-turn unfair. The developer does not want to commit to full-scale legal representation without knowing if it could “get anywhere close to understanding and answering the MoD objection.”
Mr Coppel said: “Complaint has been made, and no doubt will continue to be made, that the MoD has modified its stance. So it has. The MoD’s assessment has evolved as its understanding has increased. This is to be commended rather than condemned.”
By Robert Gibson
19 January 2008
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