“Is anyone taking a look at wind farms from a pilot training standpoint?’ was the question and stunned silence was the answer.
The question came during a discussion on encroachment at the Department of Defense (DOD) Community Conference in Orlando, Florida two weeks ago.
For example, did you know that placing wind turbines between five and eight miles from an airfield creates “blind spots” due to the clutter created on the radar screen.
Air Traffic Controllers can adjust clutter maps to account for this but “driving up” these maps will mean that an airplane on the radar screen will have to produce stronger return than the turbine before you would see it on the radar scope.
Think of it as turning the squelch up on a radio – you wouldn’t hear anyone trying to contact you until they were right next to you.
Colonel Ed Chupein, Chief of Air Force Ranges and Airspace, spoke to the 600 community leaders gathered in Orlando for the Conference about the effects of operating wind farms in the vicinity of a military air base.
He explained that the specific effects of wind turbines in close proximity to the airfield is on the Digital Air Surveillance Radar, Precision Approach Radar, and other navigational aids and is exacerbated with height and numbers of wind turbines, but especially in location.
Experts in the field say that wind turbines create not only blind spots where they can’t see an airplane on the radar, but the appearance of aircraft in the area when there aren’t any.
Each wind turbine can create the image of a Boeing 747 on the radar screen. Imagine 100 Boeing 747’s appearing on the radar screen while you are trying to keep track of four or five student aviators flying in the landing pattern?
There is also concern with weather radars. When the blades of a wind turbine have moisture on them they can create the image of a tornado or other weather phenomenon on the radar screen.
Masking images, or creating blind spots, will also ignore bird activity in the area, and birds bring down more jet aircraft than all other problems combined.
Kingsville has become the “poster child” of a community being pro-active about encroachment around a military base with completion and implementation of the Joint Land Use Study, and the recent purchase of land in the NAS Kingsville “clear zone”.
That’s why the Office of Economic Adjustment invited and paid for Mayor Sam Fugate, City Attorney Courtney Alvarez, City Planner Ken Clark and myself to attend the conference in Orlando
With the proliferation of wind farms across Texas and the Midwest, a number of attendees began asking what effect 400 ft. tall wind turbines have on military pilot training at the DOD Conference. We found out there’s a lot of concern, but too often the answer was “We don’t know what we don’t know.”
In the past two weeks we’ve found out a lot.
To set the stage, let me explain why there is so much interest in constructing wind farms in our region. First, Texas doesn’t have any permitting process or state agency to regulate the wind energy industry. Second, we have great winds at peak times, and third there are main power transmission lines running through our area connected to the power grid.
The “mother’s milk” of wind energy financing is grant monies from the Department of Energy (DOE), up to 30% of the total construction cost. A recent example is the $114-million provided by DOE for the Iberdrola Phase II Wind Farm on the Kenedy Trust property in Kenedy County.
Wind turbines are a sight to behold, with silvery rows of metal stretching high into the deep blue skies at the Papalote Creek Wind Farm in San Patricio County and the two wind farms in Kenedy County. Papalote Creek is planning to double its number of towers; Iberdrola has begun a doubling of their initial 84 towers in Kenedy County, and Element Markets is proposing a massive 300 turbine wind farm on Chapman Ranch.
Don’t misunderstand; I’m not ringing an alarm bell against wind energy and neither is the military. The Department of Defense is a major supporter of alternative energy, with a pledge to reduce fossil fuel consumption by large percentages over the next 10 years. The wind farms in Kenedy County have been an economic boom to us in Kleberg County and we’d love to see more, but not at the expense of the mission at our naval air station.
We do know that there are two primary ways to address the effects of wind turbines on pilot training – technology and siting. The problem is that once a wind tower is in the ground the chances of moving it are very, very slim.
None of us wants to negatively impact the mission at NAS Kingsville or any other military base, and no one wants to threaten the safety of student pilots preparing to defend our country.
We need time to better understand the potential effects of wind turbines on air traffic control.
That’s why we recommend a moratorium on wind farms in and around military pilot training bases until we know what we don’t know now.
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