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Wind turbine opponents say structures could affect radio signals

HEFLIN – Opponents of a proposed wind farm on Turkey Heaven Mountain have brought up concerns that the development might hamper emergency communications in the county, and a communications expert supported their warning.

Mark Truett, one of the the dissenters, brought information on the potential for interference to a Cleburne County Commission meeting earlier this month.

Mike Tadros, of SpectraWave Communication Systems in South Carolina and one of the people Truett contacted about the issue, said while there are no wind turbines in that state currently, there are companies exploring putting them in in the next few years. So SpectraWave has done studies in Illinois, Ohio, Wisconsin and Wyoming, where there are many turbines. Those studies have documented the issues and some of the solutions, Tadros said.

Fred Kitchens, a homeowner on Turkey Heaven Mountain, said there are five towers on Turkey Heaven Mountain on a half acre or acre of property surrounded by his land.

He believes the northernmost tower is a microwave tower that is now being rented by a radio station, Kitchens said. Next to it is a tower used by the Sheriff’s Office for emergency communications. Next to that is a wind velocity test tower, which was put up temporarily by the companies exploring the mountain as a wind farm site. Beside that is a communication tower for a utility company and then a Federal Aviation Administration tower, Kitchens said. The FAA tower has since been abandoned, said Steve Swafford, county administrator. Kathleen Bergen, a spokeswoman with the FAA, confirmed that the administration doesn’t have a tower on Turkey Heaven Mountain.

Tadros said those towers’ transmissions could potentially be disturbed by the electromagnetic waves put out by wind turbines, causing issues such as dead spots in radar displays and static-interference or garbled radio messages.

He presented three reports: two from universities in Spain on the interference caused to television signals and one from the State College of Pennsylvania on radar returns. All the reports note that the interference can be predicted for mitigation purposes.

Tadros for instance said the siting and orientation of the wind turbines can prevent problems. Swafford confirmed that the county does have a tower on Turkey Heaven Mountain which he said is critical to the communications of the Sheriff’s Office. He noted the Cleburne County Schools use the tower, as do the fire departments. The county ambulance service is also looking to move communications there, Swafford said.

However, he questions if and how much the turbines would affect the communication system. He said interference in radar or television signals doesn’t necessarily translate to interference to radio waves. They all operate on different frequencies, Swafford said.

Attempts to contact Nations Energy Solutions, the company currently exploring the possibility of siting wind turbines on Turkey Heaven Mountain, on Tuesday were unsuccessful.

Bergen said, though, that the FAA would do its own analysis of the site once the company filed a notice that it intends to build there. It must do so no later than 45 days before starting work on the site, she said. Neither Wind Capital Group nor Nations Energy Solutions has filed with the FAA yet, she said.

In 2011 and 2012, Wind Capital Group filed notices with the FAA to put up its test towers ranging in size from 194 feet tall to 427 feet tall. All were approved as being no hazard to air navigation, she said.

That approval, however, does not mean wind turbines would automatically be approved, Bergen said.

“Any wind turbine filings would be filed and evaluated separately,” she said, “and would take into account the exact location/height of the wind turbines along with any airport and navigational aids that may be impacted.”