Plans for a massive offshore windfarm in the Moray Firth could hamper air traffic control operations in the north and north-east, the Press and Journal can reveal.
Up to 277 giant turbines will be fixed to the seabed if the £3billion development wins support from the Scottish Government – creating one of the world’s biggest offshore windfarms.
However, a statement on the environmental impact of the development has revealed that the turbines may be indistinguishable from aircraft on radar screens at RAF Lossiemouth and Aberdeen Airport air traffic control.
The Ministry of Defence said last night it was crucial to protect military operations.
The windfarm could also affect evacuation and transfer flights to oil and gas platforms near the development.
Developer Beatrice Offshore Windfarm Ltd (Bowl) – a consortium of SSE Renewables and Repsol Nuevas Energias UK – said the windfarm would have between 142 and 277 turbines, depending on their size.
It is planned nine miles off the coast of Caithness and would be visible from as far afield as Orkney and Moray.
However, the consortium’s environmental statement – published yesterday – said the windfarm could potentially affect radar systems at RAF Lossiemouth and Allanshill, near Fraserburgh, an air traffic control site.
It states: “This is due to the fact that a large proportion of the turbines are theoretically visible to both RAF Lossiemouth and Nerl Allanshill.
“The theoretical visibility of turbines will cause unwanted radar returns to be presented on the primary source radars and will likely hamper an air traffic controller’s ability to distinguish aircraft returns from those created by the windfarm turbines, known as clutter.”
Possible solutions being considered include a new radar system, upgraded holographic radar and the creation of a zone allowing aircraft fitted with special equipment to pass without contacting air traffic control.
The consultants who prepared the statement added: “A potential effect was identified for helicopter operations to offshore oil and gas platforms in the Moray Firth.
“This is due to the effects on both visual and instrument approaches to the platforms, decreasing the ability of helicopters to reach the platforms for both evacuation and personnel transfer purposes.”
The minimum safe altitude for flights in the Moray Firth in bad weather would have to be raised by 200ft to allow enough space between aircraft and the turbine blades.
Last night, aviation expert Jim Ferguson questioned why government bodies had not been consulted before the plans were tabled.
He said: “I’m surprised that the developers don’t first run their plans past the MoD and the Civil Aviation Authority.”
He added: “Once the turbine blades are turning round, they show up on radar. There are new, expensive super-radars to filter this out but these are in the planning stage and the MOD are not going to rebuild RAF Lossie just to suit the windfarm.”
An MoD spokesman said last night that wind turbines could affect military operations and it was “crucial” that its weapons, firing ranges and navigation were protected. The spokesman added that the MoD was in discussions with the windfarm developer.
A National Air Traffic System (Nats) spokeswoman said it was too early to tell if her organisation would lodge an objection.
She said: “What can happen with wind turbines, the movement and the altitude of the blade scan cause clutter on the radar screen which can interfere with the controllers’ ability to identify the aircraft passing through the area.”
She added that, as a statutory consultee, Nats would respond to the proposal.
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