A recent decision by the Federal Aviation Administration could take the wind out of the sails of a Texas company planning to build a commercial wind farm in North East Township.
The FAA has determined that the giant wind turbines needed to harness wind power would interfere with radar used by air traffic controllers at Erie International Airport.
The FAA therefore denied the developer’s request to extend an earlier FAA determination that the turbines would not interfere with aviation.
“The (new) analysis done by FAA Technical Operations indicates that all of the wind turbines would be in the radar line of sight for the Erie ASR-11 radar and would create unwanted primary returns (clutter) and dropped primary targets in the vicinity of the wind turbines,” FAA specialist Cindy Whitten said Oct. 9, in a written notification to Paul Harris, of Pioneer Green Energy affiliate North East Wind I LLC.
About 61 aircraft a day would be affected by the inaccurate radar returns, Whitten said.
There is nothing developers can do to make the turbines safe for that air traffic, she said.
“There is a method to reduce this impact; however it diminishes the capability of air traffic control to provide a safe environment for the aviation community,” Whitten said in the notification. “Therefore, all potential mitigations have been rejected by air traffic control …”
FAA approval is required to build any structure taller than 200 feet. The agency originally decided in September 2012 that the proposed North East wind farm posed “no hazard” to local aviation. That determination expired May 27 when Pioneer had not yet begun turbine construction.
Pioneer Green Energy planned to build as many as 67 turbines as tall as 450 feet to harness wind power to generate electricity, but those plans are being reworked and “downsized,” maybe into several small projects instead of one large one, Pioneer Vice President David Savage said Friday. The company will relocate turbines and seek FAA approval for the new locations, he said.
Savage gave no details on the new plans or when those plans might be submitted to FAA and to other agencies as required.
“We’re still working through it,” he said.
Pioneer Green Energy canceled plans for a California wind project in 2013 and for an Alabama project in August. But the company is still committed to east Erie County, Savage said.
Opponents of the proposed wind farm said that they are “pleased” with the new FAA decision and hope that it might be a death knell for the project.
“I’m very pleased,” said Paul Crowe, of Neighbors for a Responsible North East, a group that’s lobbied against the proposed wind farm. “It justifies to some degree our concerns about turbine placement. This is a case where another agency basically looked at the issues, as we have, and said there is an issue with turbines in the area.”
The air surveillance radar used by Erie air traffic controllers is located south of Interstate 90 in McKean Township. The radar covers airspace from the southern shore of Canada to Tidioute in the Allegheny National Forest, and from Ashtabula, Ohio, to Jamestown, N.Y.
Air traffic controllers use the radar to track planes bound to and from Erie International Airport and others just passing through local airspace, airport Executive Director Chris Rodgers said.
“It allows controllers to see not only the planes using this airport but planes transiting through this airspace, so that they can keep safe distances between them,” Rodgers said.
The ASR-11 radar was built in 2002 to improve air traffic controllers’ “view” of air traffic in the region.