The construction of large wind farms could drive up the cost of air travel and cause delays in launching fighter aircraft on missions to protect Canada, Canadian Air Force officers are warning in a newly released report.
There are a number of proposals underway to build wind farms, including three near a military airbase in Bagotville, Que., five in Nova Scotia, two in Ontario and one in Saskatchewan, the report prepared in November 2012 for then-defence minister Peter MacKay pointed out.
Wind farms are sprouting up around the world, but aviation specialists are raising concerns that the giant turbines are creating blackout zones for air-traffic control radar. The spinning blades of the turbines are being detected by the radar, presenting false images or generating so much clutter on radar screens that controllers are losing track of airplanes as they fly near the wind farm sites.
The wind turbines can also interfere with weather radar, U.S. researchers have warned. The rotating blades can show up on radar as incoming weather, such as an area of precipitation.
“An entire farm will create areas where we cannot reliably observe or control military/civilian air traffic,” the briefing for MacKay, obtained through the Access to Information law, pointed out. “NORAD quick reaction aircraft would need to be rerouted or launch delayed if aircraft were known to be still flying through the dead zone.”
“Wind farms could be accepted if DND and NavCanada altered civilian and military air routes, airspace structure, and/or air traffic procedures, all of which will cause increases in fuel consumption, flight duration and cost of air travel,” it added.
Military officers say a proposed wind farm near North Gower isn’t an issue for the Royal Canadian Air Force. But a 175-turbine wind farm to be located in an area south of the Bagotville airport is a problem. The RCAF, which originally objected to the farm, is now trying to work with the developers to find ways around the issues.
RCAF spokesman Maj. Steve Neta said DND is supportive of the development of commercial wind farms and other sources of renewable energy that do not adversely impact military readiness or training.
“Commercial wind turbines in the vicinity of Canadian Forces bases and installations have the potential to pose a flight safety risk or otherwise impede flight operations and training,” he added in an email.
But Neta said the RCAF is confident it can deal with any effects on operations created by the proposed Bagotville wind farm. “Possible technical and operational mitigation measures are being assessed, and continue to be developed to alleviate the potential interference that wind farm projects may create,” he added.
The RCAF is looking at possible refinements to the current area surveillance radar facilities. “However we expect that new radars being developed will incorporate technologies that will enhance visibility around wind turbines,” Neta said.
In March, Canada awarded a contract to European defence firm Cassidian to equip RCAF airfields with latest-technology airport surveillance radar. The company noted that its radar system is equipped with specific data processing software so it is able to track air traffic even in wind farm shadows.
Last week the German Air Force announced it had completed successful testing of a new air defence radar installed at a site surrounded by a large wind farm.
Other federal departments have remained mostly silent on the Bagotville wind farm proposal, preferring that DND to take the lead, according to another 2012 briefing note for MacKay.
In late October, nearly 300 people came to a recreation centre in North Gower to oppose construction of eight to 10 wind turbines north and west of the village.
Opponents of wind farms say sound waves that are at too low a frequency for the human ear to hear can cause insomnia, dizziness, headaches and other health problems. The industry says there is no health impact. Construction could begin in the fall of 2014, but the proposal by Prowind Canada is on hold for now.
with files from Tom Spears