Once lauded as America’s primary alternative energy source, wind farms are falling out of favour as it emerged they are producing ‘blank spots’ which distort important radar readings.
The constant spinning of turbines means the tracking of aircraft and weather patterns is being disrupted, with the result that some government officials are opposing the creation of new farms.
Politicians have locked horns with defence chiefs who have tried to block farms close to military radar systems, claiming the moves are hindering job growth.
Shepherd’s Flat, a wind farm being built in Oregon, had been held up by a government notice that it would ‘seriously impair the ability of the (DoD) to detect, monitor and safely conduct air operations,’ Fox News reported.
‘The Department of Defence’s earlier decision threatened to drop a bomb on job creation in Central Oregon,’ said Oregon Senator Ron Wyden.
A compromise later emerged after further research at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, which recommended military radar avoid the area directly above turbines, which effectively blocks the readings that could lead the radar to misinterpret the data.
The Oregon farm, which has already cost taxpayers over $1bn, has now been given the green light, but the fix for military radar has not been as successful for weather forecasters.
Ed Ciardi, a meteorologist at the National Weather Service Radar Operations Centre in Norman, Oklahoma, said: ‘The real problem is when rain and the wind turbines are mixed together (on the radar map).
‘And it’s all confusing… sometimes (forecasters) throw up their hands and say, “Who knows?”.’
While wind farm interference has caused occasional false alarms, the Weather Service has not missed any storm warnings as yet.
Ciardi added: ‘We’re more worried about the future… we’ve seen quite a few proposals for wind farms around our radars. And we have been… trying to convince them to stay a good distance away.’
As radar scientists work on a solution, a temporary fix has been to ask wind farm owners to turn off the propellers during storms.
Another strategy is to ask proprietors to install devices to measure wind speeds and rainfall – thus eradicating the need for radar in the area.
But as Ciardi admits: ‘It all comes down to money and who’s going to pay for it.’