Military chiefs may have opened the floodgates to scores more windfarm schemes in the north and north-east by upgrading their radar systems.
The days of the Ministry of Defence (MoD) trying to block planning applications for new turbine developments in Aberdeenshire and the Western Isles could soon be at an end.
The Press and Journal has learned that a contract has been signed to update the remote radar head (RRH) sites at Buchan, south of Peterhead, and Benbecula with new “windfarm-friendly” technology. Work on the upgrade is due to be completed by the middle of next year, and a spokesman for the MoD has confirmed it will “mitigate the effects of wind turbines on the radar capability”.
The UK Government department has objected in recent years to dozens of windfarm projects in both regions, many of which have subsequently been blocked or shelved.
Peter Argyle, chairman of Aberdeenshire Council’s infrastructure services committee, said the radar upgrade plan could have major implications.
“It’s the first I’ve heard of it but, if the MoD is saying the new systems won’t be affected by windfarms, logically they won’t be objecting to many or any,” he said.
“I would think it would be significant. There’s a lot of wind turbine applications on hold as developers work with the MoD to overcome these issues, and others that have been ruled out.
“Councillors take the MoD seriously – it’s defence of the realm we’re talking about.”
Turbines show up on radar and are difficult to distinguish from small aircraft. As a result, RAF planes have to steer six miles clear of them.
To overcome the problems, about two years ago the MoD began installing the new TPS-77 system, which does not suffer from the interference.
The same technology is now to be installed at Buchan and Benbecula.
The MoD has also objected to windfarm plans in Moray because of the radar systems at RAF Lossiemouth.
It was not known last night if defence chiefs have plans to fit the new technology at the base.
The MoD has refused to reveal the cost of the radar upgrade plans for Buchan and Benbecula, but replacing similar installations in Northumberland and Yorkshire in 2012 cost £27million, funded by the windfarm developers.
Western Isles Council members have voiced their frustration at the “almost automatic objections” to applications for turbines on North and South Uist, as well as Benbecula.
In December, Scottish ministers “called in” proposals to instal two community turbines at Clachan after councillors approved them despite an MoD objection.
The P&J understands the contract for the radar upgrade was signed in November, prompting Western Isles councillor Donald Manford to question why the MoD objection was still in place. Jenny Hogan, policy director of industry body Scottish Renewables, said: “The renewables industry continues to work with a number of organisations to develop software solutions, in addition to ongoing upgrades to radar hardware, which help to reduce any effects of wind turbines on radar.”
Asked about the Buchan and Benbecula sites, an MoD spokesman said: “The radar systems are being upgraded to provide ongoing support to air defences.
“The work will help to mitigate the effects of wind turbines on the radar capability.”
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