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Radar upgrade in Fossil to lessen conflict with proposed wind farms

The U.S. Department of Defense, Department of Homeland Security and Federal Aviation Administration say they’ve developed a radar upgrade for the station in Fossil that will minimize conflict with proposed wind farms.

The announcement Wednesday comes three weeks after U.S. Sen. Ron Wyden, D-Oregon, sent a letter to top officials at the Pentagon and Federal Aviation Administration, saying the outdated radar was holding back nearly 4,000 megawatts of new wind energy development in Eastern Oregon and Washington.

Located on a remote mountaintop, the Fossil radar is a long-range surveillance system jointly managed by the Department of Defense and Homeland Security, and used by the FAA for air traffic control. However, the FAA has tagged numerous wind turbines as potential hazards for the way they generate false alarms, or “clutter,” on the radar screen.

That has posed a significant hurdle to growing Oregon’s clean energy portfolio – identified as a top priority of the Obama administration – and small, rural counties where wind energy has taken over as a leading industry.

The radar was last given a software upgrade in 2010 to allow for construction of the enormous Shepherds Flat Wind Farm in Gilliam and Morrow counties. Wyden had asked the government to replace the system entirely, but calls this most recent advancement a step in the right direction.

“I fully intend to make sure the federal government stays on this course until it reaches a comprehensive solution that maintains defense capabilities and air safety while preserving every opportunity to develop wind energy to its complete potential,” Wyden said in a statement.

Developed by the FAA National Airspace Systems Defense Program over the course of three years, the upgrade should actually improve detection of aircraft while simultaneously reducing clutter from wind turbines, according to the agency.

Mark Carmouche, lead engineer for the FAA’s long-range radar team, said the technology is based on a “novel computer software solution” and the results have been verified with multiple flight campaigns.

“The results have proven successful by any measure, and it is truly an exciting time to be part of the long-range radar team,” Carmouche said.

The FAA, Department of Defense and Homeland Security say they will continue to look at ways of mitigating radar impacts on wind turbines, and evaluate proposed wind farm projects on a case-by-case basis.

According to the Renewable Northwest Project based in Portland, there are 12 wind energy projects either proposed or in the permitting process in Oregon. All would be located in Eastern Oregon, except for a 30-watt offshore development in Coos County.