Of all the issues to be debated before the Inspector in the coming weeks, aviation is likely to play the most significant role in the inquiry.
The MoD has already recorded its “implacable opposition” to the proposals, citing recent evidence concerning the adverse effects of wind turbines on air traffic control radars.
This, it says, is particularly relevant to the applications under review as each would be in the line of sight of radars at the RAF Spadeadam Electronic Warfare Tactics Range.
Newcastle International Airport, NATS (En-Route) air traffic management, and Tynedale District Council will also be objecting on aviation grounds.
Speaking at the opening of the inquiry last Tuesday, counsel for the MoD Philip Coppel referred to a trial conducted by the ministry to determine the effect of windfarms on radars.
“The trial’s findings were alarming,” he said. “They revealed a greater impact than that previously thought. This in turn required a more robust approach to wind turbine assessments.
“Previous research had predicted a ‘shadow region’ behind the wind turbines within which the primary radar responses would be masked. The trial confirmed this and gave a glimpse of the scale of the problem.
“It also proved that ‘clutter’ was displayed to the radar operator as a result of the motion of the wind turbines. This clutter was assessed as highly detrimental to the provision of a safe air traffic service.”
Spadeadam is the only electronic warfare tactics range in the UK and is principally used to train aircrew to evade radar-guided missiles.
Mr Coppel pointed out that, considering its location, windfarms threatened to undermine the range’s very purpose.
“The windfarms at Ray, Steadings, and Green Rigg will place a significant limitation on operations at RAF Spadeadam,” he said.
“Obstructions in the entry bottleneck – that is, the Hexham gap – will have a significant effect on low flying.
“As flying low and trying to use the terrain to evade a threat radar is one tactic the pilot will wish to use, pulling up to fly over the windfarms will expose him, which will place constraints on the aircrew and reduce the realism of the exercise.”
Speaking for Newcastle International Airport, Thomas Hill also highlighted the area’s unique position.
“All three proposals in this case are located in an area immediately adjoining the RAF’s Spadeadam and Otterburn Ranges and the associated area of intense aerial activity,” he said.
“The air space above the application sites is Class G and intensively used by commercial air traffic in transit and by general aviation traffic.
“Newcastle International Airport Air Traffic Control provides a radar service to this traffic.”
Mr Hill pointed out that turbines would generate “intermittent returns” that would show on the airport’s air traffic control screens in precisely the same way as aircraft would.
“The radar clutter caused by each or all of the proposals would be sufficient to mask an aircraft or conceal its movement – in an environment were air traffic controllers are called upon to make split-second decisions,” he said.
“Our evidence will explain how this can jeopardise the provision of a safe radar service.”
NATs (En Route), which provides en-route air traffic management services to aircraft flying in the UK and North Atlantic air space, takes a similar stance.
“NATs seeks to allow as many proposals to go forward as possible, in aviation terms,” said barrister James Strachan.
“NATs receives approximately 35 windfarm applications per month.
“The data for 2007 demonstrates that it raised no objections to 94 per cent of the applications received last year.
“Unfortunately, each of the proposals before this inquiry falls into that unacceptable category and presents insurmountable problems.”
Of all the objectors, though, Tynedale District Council put forward its concerns in the most emotional terms.
This was not, said Anthony Crean QC, a normal windfarm inquiry as it involved a “transcendent issue which exceeds all other factors”.
“It has to do with the conditions in which British men and women train and fight for their country in hostile conditions overseas,” he said.
By Robert Gibson
25 January 2008
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