Radar concerns already have killed several wind projects. In 2010, energy developers abandoned about a half-dozen proposed wind farms in the Barstow area after the Department of Defense raised objections. One of those was the 82.6-megawatt proposal by AES Wind Generation, which wanted to erect mammoth wind turbines on 1,577 acres of public land and 380 acres of private land on Daggett Ridge, about 10 miles southeast of Barstow. In 2009, Secretary of Interior Ken Salazar selected the proposal for fast-tracked approval so it could qualify for federal stimulus dollars.
With a PowerPoint presentation and a dot of red light, military officials dropped a bomb on California’s wind energy industry at a recent public meeting.
Using a laser pointer, a Navy official outlined on a map a vast area where the military wants to limit commercial wind development. The pointer swept across the Mojave Desert, skirting around Las Vegas, and edging near San Bernardino County’s High Desert communities and touching the southern Sierra Nevada range.
Within that outline, energy companies have been conducting meteorological tests to develop at least 15 wind farms on public property under the jurisdiction of the U.S. Bureau and Land Management.
The military hasn’t officially adopted an “adverse impact zone” – a reference to interference with military activities – described by Navy sustainability official Tony Parisi during the recent meeting.
To help map the zone, a laboratory at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology is validating military tests of how wind turbines affect radar, Parisi said in a telephone interview. The matter has been discussed at the highest levels of the Navy and the Department of Defense, and a final decision is expected this summer, he said.
The military likely would oppose all wind projects in such a zone, he said.
The military’s concern could be a significant obstacle to wind energy development in Southern California’s deserts, said Nancy Rader, executive director of the California Wind Energy Association, who heard Parisi’s presentation April 25 at the Ontario Convention Center. The meeting was organized by California energy officials as part of a multiple-agency process to plan for renewable energy development in the desert that minimizes harm to wildlife habitat and other natural resources.
Military priorities tend to trump other land-use interests, she said.
“The military always comes first on the food chain, and we are always far behind,” Rader said by telephone. “And it is always, ‘Whoa, you can’t mess with national security.’”
Wind turbines compromise research-and-development missions involving airborne radar systems for current and future generation of military aircrafts, said Parisi, a Point Mugu-based civilian who heads the sustainability office for the Naval Air Systems Command Range.
The spinning blades reflect radar waves back to aircraft in ways that corrupt the radar spectrum, interfering with operators’ ability to detect and track targets, according to the presentation. Military officials want the Mojave Desert to be maintained as “pristine open air space.”
“We are not aware of any viable mitigation with the exception of curtailment, and that is shutting them down when we are doing missions,” Parisi said.
Radar concerns already have killed several wind projects. In 2010, energy developers abandoned about a half-dozen proposed wind farms in the Barstow area after the Department of Defense raised objections.
One of those was the 82.6-megawatt proposal by AES Wind Generation, which wanted to erect mammoth wind turbines on 1,577 acres of public land and 380 acres of private land on Daggett Ridge, about 10 miles southeast of Barstow. In 2009, Secretary of Interior Ken Salazar selected the proposal for fast-tracked approval so it could qualify for federal stimulus dollars.
The company tried to minimize the effects on radar but couldn’t come to terms with military officials, said Greg Miller, renewable energy project manager for the BLM’s California Desert District. The Daggett Ridge project called for 33 towers, each 12 feet in diameter at the base and more than 260 feet tall. The tips of the rotating blades would have reached 429 feet in the air.
Federal laws require the Department of Defense to look for compromises and technical solutions to allow for wind energy and other types of development that may conflict with military missions, Rader said. But it can be difficult to work out agreements, because the military has so much clout and keeps much of its information classified, she said.
Parisi said the military can’t share all the details for security reasons but added that the physics of wind turbines’ effects on radar are well known.
The radar issue is the second roadblock to wind development in California’s deserts. Miller said wind developers also are having trouble getting the permits they need from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service because of concerns that the turbines will harm protected golden eagles and California condors.
Environmentalists had mixed reactions to the military’s radar worries.
Cherry Good, who opposes a wind farm proposed on public land atop Black Lava Butte and Flat Top Mesa northwest of Yucca Valley, said she is pleased to hear of the military objections. The radar conflict is another reason the project shouldn’t be built, she said. Beyond that, it would destroy views, wildlife habitat and Native American artifacts, she said.
Ileene Anderson, a biologist for the Center for Biological Diversity, said flight paths above the Mojave Desert are an important route for migratory birds and bats that could be killed by wind turbines.
But Frazier Haney, manager of the Whitewater Preserve, east of Cabazon, said a ban on wind projects in large stretches of the Mojave could spur developers to seek other land that also is important to wildlife.
Rader, of the state wind power association, said she doesn’t see the military concerns as a victory for environmentalists, because it could eliminate some flexibility in deciding the best locations for wind development. In any case, California needs more wind energy if it is to meet a legislative mandate to get 33 percent of its power from alternative sources by 2020, she said.
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