Ambitious plans to meet up to a third of Britain’s energy needs from offshore wind farms are in jeopardy because the Ministry of Defence objects that the turbines interfere with its radar.
The MoD has lodged last-minute objections to at least four onshore wind farms in the line of sight of its stations on the east coast because they make it impossible to spot aircraft, The Times has learnt. The same objections are likely to apply to wind turbines in the North Sea, part of the massive renewable energy project announced by John Hutton, the Energy Secretary, barely two months ago. They would be directly in line with the three principal radar defence stations, Brizlee Wood, Saxton Wold and Trimingham on the Northumberland, Yorkshire and Norfolk coasts.
Giving evidence to a planning inquiry last October, a senior MoD expert said that the turbines create a hole in radar coverage so that aircraft flying overhead are not detectable. In written evidence, Squadron Leader Chris Breedon said: “This obscuration occurs regardless of the height of the aircraft, of the radar and of the turbine.” He described the discovery as alarming.
The findings were the result of trials carried out in 2004 and 2005 but the MoD appears to have toughened its stance more recently. It now objects to almost all wind farms in the line of sight of its radar stations.
The change of policy has prompted fury among developers, who had previously been told that there were no defence implications. They have now written a letter of protest to Mr Hutton and Des Browne, the Defence Secretary, pointing out that millions of pounds of investment are at risk.
The MoD says that Air Chief Marshal Sir Jock Stirrup, the Chief of the Defence Staff, has given a firm direction that radar surveillance capability must not be degraded. It denied that it would make automatic objections, saying: “All wind farm applications are assessed on a site-by-site basis. The MoD is committed to government targets for renewable energy and whenever possible we seek to work with wind farm developers to find a mutually acceptable solution.”
It did, however, add: “We look at whether turbines will be in line of sight, ie, if the radar can see the turbine. If it can, we know there will be an effect as we have evidence from trials. We decide whether line-of-site effect is manageable or not.”
Squadron Leader Breedon said that not only did the turbines create a radar hole directly over a wind farm but there was also a shadow beyond them that prevented low-flying aircraft being detected. He said: “The MoD trial results were alarming as they confirmed a greater impact than that previously thought. This in turn required a more robust approach to wind turbine assessments.”
The British Wind Energy Association said: “This is a very real issue for us, but we are now working with government. We are hopeful of seeing progress on this soon so that we can reach the ambitious 2020 targets for renewable power in the UK.”
The Department for Business Enterprise and Regulatory Reform has described the MoD’s protests as holding objections. It has created an Aviation Working Group bringing together the wind energy industry, MoD and Civil Aviation Authority to agree guidelines to solve conflicts.
By Magnus Linklater and Dominic Kennedy
4 February 2008
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