Fears were voiced last night that more swathes of moorland and countryside will come under pressure from wind farm developers following a potential solution to military objections to turbines.
The Ministry of Defence has objected to a number of large-scale wind farm schemes across the UK because of their potential to disrupt radar systems – which find it hard to distinguish between aircraft and the whirring blades of giant turbines.
Now it appears that green energy companies have found a way to overcome the objections by buying new mobile radar systems, each costing about £20m, from a US defence contractor.
It has been reported that the systems have been shown in tests to be able to differentiate between aircraft and turbines, ensuring that MoD early warning systems remain effective in detecting enemy planes and missiles.
Fresh fears have now been raised that thousands more wind turbines could be built across Britain – including Northumberland and the Scottish Borders – because of the technological breakthrough.
It is claimed that a deal has been struck in the past few weeks to install one of the mobile radar systems – a Lockheed Martin TPS-77 built in the USA – in the Borders to overcome objections to a 48-turbine wind farm at Fallago Rig, planned on land owned by the Duke of Roxburghe.
Reports suggest the system, the cost of which would be shared by a number of energy companies, could pave the way for about 12 more wind farms in the area.
The issue of radar has been a stumbling block to a number of wind farm proposals in Northumberland, including at Wandylaw, the Ray Estate near Kirkwhelpington, Green Rigg Fell and Kirkharle.
Last night Don Brownlow, a member of the former Moorsyde Action Group which opposed turbines near Berwick, said the radar developments were not good news for anti-wind farm campaigners.
“It is obvious that if they have sorted out the radar issue it is going to open up even more areas of Northumberland and the Borders to exploitation.
“This problem had given a certain degree of protection to some areas around the RAF radar at Brizlee Wood. I suspect this will now open up further applications in the Charlton area north of Alnwick, and bring fresh pressure on areas on the approach to Newcastle Airport.
“Wind energy companies are quite willing to blow £500,000 on a public inquiry so for several of the them to share the cost of a mobile radar system is peanuts,” added Mr Brownlow, who now runs the Windbyte turbine mapping website.”
Earlier this month the Department of Energy and Climate Change and the Ministry of Defence signed a memorandum of understanding with the renewable energy industry and others, pledging their commitment to overcome aviation planning objections to help the Government meet stringent climate change targets.
The memorandum estimates that over the next decade about 4,500 onshore wind turbines – and around 6,000 offshore turbines – could be built if aviation objections are overcome.
Mark Rowley, who heads the Say No to Fallago campaign, said: “If even a fraction of the extra schemes are consented, this important gateway to Scotland will become a 21st century Hadrian’s Wall made of 400ft turbines stretched across some of the finest landscapes in Scotland.”
The deal signed at Fallago Rig follows negotiations between the MoD and the energy company North British Windpower. The MoD had originally objected to the wind farm but withdrew those objections at a planning inquiry. A spokesman for RenewableUK, the renewable energy trade body, said: “The wind industry has been striving for a solution to radar issues for many years, and we’ve made significant progress. Working with the government and other stakeholders, we’re moving from the research and development phase to actually implementing technical solutions on the ground.”
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