November 17, 2015
Blogs, Vermont

Giant wind turbines would pose hazard to Vermont airspace, FAA finds

By Bruce Parker / November 17, 2015 /

The Federal Aviation Administration has determined that seven giant wind turbines proposed for construction on the border of Swanton and St. Albans would endanger flights at the Franklin County State Airport and all airspace controlled by the Boston Air Route Traffic Control Center.

According to a Notice of Presumed Hazard posted on the FAA’s website, the 499-foot-tall wind turbines proposed for Rocky Ridge in Swanton would have “an adverse physical or electromagnetic interference effect upon navigable airspace or air navigation facilities.”

The structures exceed federal obstruction standards and therefore are “presumed to be a hazard to air navigation,” the notice states. The blades of the turbines would degrade radar used by Boston Center to regulate air traffic across New England states, New York and part of Pennsylvania.

The FAA conducted the aeronautical study in October after the developer, Swanton Wind LLC, filed a notice of proposed construction or alteration pertaining to its renewable energy plant.

Located in northwestern Vermont, the Franklin County State Airport serves recreational and discretionary aircraft operators from Vermont, the North Country region of New York, and southern Quebec. The state-owned facility hosts flight training for Burlington International Airport and Franklin County Airport flight schools.

Boston Center, located in Nashua, New Hampshire, sends radar to radar stations across the entire region. If the wind turbines are built, they would stand between the control center and a radar antenna on St. Albans Hill.

“Wind turbine blades … will be within direct, radar line-of-sight relative to the FAA Saint Albans (QHB) enroute radar antenna and will cause clutter and target detection issues for primary radar. No intervening topography exists between the radar antenna and wind turbines with sufficient elevation that would provide natural shielding for the wind turbine blades.” the notice states.

To meet the federal safety standard for that location, the FAA said turbines cannot exceed a height of zero feet above ground level, or between 850 to 925 feet feet above mean sea level. As planned by the developer, the turbines would sit 499 feet above ground level, and between 1349 and 1424 feet above mean sea level – far above the acceptable limit.

The finding, dated Oct. 19, is the latest setback for Swanton Wind LLC. In recent months, the developer has lost the support of Green Mountain Power, the Vermont Department of Public Service and Gov. Peter Shumlin. The firm also faces stiff opposition from Oppose Swanton Wind, a local grassroots coalition.

Brian Dubie, Vermont’s former lieutenant governor and the founder and chair of Vermont Aerospace and Aviation Association, said flight safety at the airport is a paramount concern.

“Going forward with a project is a complex undertaking. We need to be very careful about putting any obstacles that are close to airports that could have an effect on the safety of aviation,” Dubie said.

That concern was echoed by the State of Vermont Aeronautics Division, which sent a letter to the Public Service Board last month requesting that decisions about the project be put on hold until the FAA could complete its inspection.

Dated Oct. 1, the letter expressed worries the wind turbines would create “a hazardous situation” for aircraft approaching the airport from the south. Pilots coming in and out from the runway would fly just 1,000 feet above the turbines and would not see the towers during bad weather conditions.

“Not all of the aircraft departing the airport to the south will be able to climb above towers, creating an unsafe situation for the flying public,” the letter from the Vermont Aeronautics Division states.

The FAA hazard warning focused on the turbines’ potential interference with primary radar returns, not other potential flight dangers.

Independent of the FAA finding, residents of Swanton are voting Tuesday on whether to reject the turbines. A townwide rejection, while nonbinding, would be the latest blow to Vermont’s long-range energy plan, which seeks to transition the state to an independent all-renewable-energy economy by 2050. In October, Irasburg voted 274-9 against similar giant turbines planned for Kidder Hill.

Contact Bruce Parker at

URL to article: