CASPER, Wyo. – Two adjacent wind farms planned south of Glenrock might be the first in the United States whose lights turn on only when aircraft are near, thanks to a radar-controlled system.
That type of system could dampen objections from neighbors who don’t like the idea of blinking lights on the mountain slopes through the night.
While such systems are already in use with other types of obstruction, they have yet to be approved for use in wind farms in the U.S. However, they could receive approval from the Federal Aviation Administration by late summer, an FAA representative said.
Park City, Utah-based Wasatch Wind plans to build both 31-turbine wind farms on property along Mormon Canyon Road south of Glenrock. One of the complaints from those opposed to the development is the light pollution cast from dozens of lights mounted on turbines hundreds of feet in the air.
“The radar system to keep the turbine lights off at night is very important to us because it will resolve the largest concern we’ve heard among the residents and local governments of Converse and Natrona counties – keeping the night skies dark,” said Michelle Stevens, communications director for Wasatch Wind.
The Northern Laramie Range Alliance, which formed to oppose wind farm and high-powered transmission lines in the area, decided not to comment on the systems, pending FAA approval.
But at a Converse County Commission hearing in April, members included “light pollution” concerns in their list of complaints about the development.
Employess of the FAA will conduct measurements and other tests of a radar-controlled system in use at the Talbot Wind Farm in Lake Ontario, Canada, in July, said Jim Patterson, an airport safety specialist with the FAA’s technical center in Atlantic City, N.J.
“We are trying to work as fast as we can to get this done,” he said.
The systems consist of radar attached to wind turbine towers. The radar detects aircraft and their flight paths as they near the wind farm and turns on the farm’s lights if the aircraft are flying toward or close to the turbines. A system designed by Norway- and Florida-based OCAS Inc. also broadcasts an audio warning on radio frequencies used by pilots.
Patterson said the FAA’s goal at the Canadian wind farm is to gain an understanding of how the systems work installed in a wind farm, and create rules that will give pilots anywhere in the country a similar experience when dealing with wind farms whose lights are controlled by radar.
“One thing we need to make sure is that we’re consistent, that the system would work the same way on the East Coast or the West Coast,” he said.
Once the measurements and tests are completed, the FAA will release an advisory circular providing guidance for use of the systems on wind farms, he said.
Similar systems are already approved for use in the U.S. to light some aviation obstructions, such as power lines.
Stevens said Wasatch Wind is in talks with the firms OCAS Inc. and DeTect Inc. about installing their systems, once the FAA gives the go-ahead.
While DeTect didn’t return a request for comment Wednesday, McCarthy of OCAS said her firm is just waiting on FAA approval to move forward on a number of projects in the U.S.
“We actually have a couple of contracts right now that are pending the final FAA signoff,” she said.
The OCAS radar-controlled light system was invented by Norwegian Royal Air Force pilots in 2000. It has been approved for use in Norway, Sweden and Canada, and is going through the approval process in Germany.
McCarthy said her company would be excited for the Wasatch Wind project to take the lead in using the system in this country.
“It would be a good opportunity to show what can be done, what’s possible,” she said.
Stevens said that if the technology is approved after the wind farms are constructed, it will still be installed.
“If the radar technology is approved after the Pioneer Wind Park is constructed, we’ve committed to Converse County, to Wyoming and its residents that we will install the radar system when it’s approved,” she said.
The Converse County Commission approved a permit for the wind farms on May 10, and the Wyoming Industrial Siting Council, which must grant a permit for wind farms of that size, just wrapped up three days of hearings about the development on Wednesday.
The council will hear rebuttal testimony, closing statements, and will deliberate on its decision June 13.
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