The U.S. military was forced to accept a wind farm in Pasquotank and Perquimans counties despite no guarantees it wouldn’t impair a regional radar system, a North Carolina wind energy opponent claims.
John Droz, a physicist known for advocating against renewable energy, also acknowledges, however, that he has no direct evidence the former administration of President Barack Obama forced the military to approve the Amazon Wind Farm US East project.
Droz was interviewed by The Daily Advance in the wake of an effort by state lawmakers and a retired Marine general to ask the incoming administration of President Donald Trump to shut down the 104-turbine Amazon Wind Farm US East.
In a letter to new Homeland Security Secretary John Kelly, the lawmakers claim that a long-range radar surveillance facility is at serious risk of being degraded by the Amazon Wind Farm project. The Amazon wind farm’s turbines are too close to the Navy’s Northwest Annex in Chesapeake, Virginia, and will cause unacceptable interference with the installation’s relocatable over-the-horizon radar receiver, they lawmakers claim.
The lawmakers sent the letter despite the Navy’s agreement in 2014 to allow the wind farm’s developer, Avangrid Renewables, to build 104 turbines in specific locations on a site in Pasquotank and Perquimans counties. The agreement further requires Avangrid to study the wind farm’s operational data to verify 2014 modeling that showed interference from the turbines is within an acceptable threshold.
There are no such data yet, a Naval spokeswoman said in an interview last week. Spokesmen for the Navy also told The Associated Press last week that the current Amazon Wind Farm US East project is not likely to affect the mission of the Northwest Annex.
Asked about the lawmakers’ letter to Kelly, Droz said he was consulted on it and it included long-known concerns with the Amazon project. He said he had no comment on whether he helped write it.
Droz said military officers have voiced concerns about wind farms like Amazon Wind Farm US East interfering with not only radar but flight paths. He noted a Seymour Johnson Air Force Base commander several years ago objected to a wind farm that the company Invenergy proposed in Beaufort County. The military reached an agreement to allow the farm while restricting turbines’ placement near a major military flight path, the Washington Daily News reported in early 2014.
Droz claims the military, rather than reaching a truly acceptable compromise, has been forced to make deals with wind companies because renewable energy development was a high priority for the Obama administration.
Asked if he has proof the Obama administration overrode the military on the Amazon wind farm project, Droz conceded he couldn’t name a specific official who told the military to make a deal. However, he said administration officials in a congressional hearing refused to answer a question on whether national security took precedence over renewable energy. He claims that was indicative of the Obama administration’s mindset.
A website Droz maintains provides the transcript of that hearing, which was in 2010 and held before the House Armed Services Committee. During the hearing, then-Congressman Randy Forbes, of Chesapeake, pressed officials from the Department of Defense, Federal Aviation Administration, U.S. Air Force and the wind industry on whether “there should ever be a time that we accept a decrease in military readiness to support national energy initiatives?”
The transcript shows Dorothy Robyn, a deputy undersecretary of Defense, tried to reject the question’s premise, arguing new technology could mitigate conflicts between defense and energy development. She ultimately said, “we haven’t to date, and I don’t think we intend to accept a significant level of reduction in military readiness, no.”
The FAA official present, Nancy Kalinowski, offered a less definitive answer, but said she wouldn’t accept a degradation in the safety of U.S. airspace.
The Air Force official present, Maj. Gen. Lawrence Stutzriem, said homeland defense takes precedence, but also added “I do also share Dr. Robyn’s comment that some of the recent studies in what we see, there are probably a lot of technological pieces out there in the future that can help mitigate that risk.”
Droz also claims the Navy accepted a bad deal by allowing Avangrid to go forward with its 104 turbines. The wind farm can continue to operate even if it totally degraded ROTHR signals, he said.
The agreement, available online, calls for the developer and Navy to bring in a technical expert and discuss ways to fix any interference beyond a defined threshold. However, it also provides that “curtailment of the wind project outside of national security or defense purposes … is not required for the wind project.”
The agreement specifies that “national security or defense purposes” are defined as “emergency circumstances” and do not include routine operations.
In an email on Friday, Naval Public Affairs Officer Katisha Draughn-Fraguada acknowledged the agreement doesn’t require the wind farm to shut down just because there’s more radar interference than expected.
Draughn-Fraguada also discussed how the Navy reached its conclusion that 104 turbines wouldn’t excessively degrade ROTHR reception – allowing turbines closer than suggested by a 2012 study. It used project-specific data, including for the model of turbine the developer used. She added that the Gamesa turbines the project is using “contain a lightning suppression system that in theory should reduce the radar cross-section.”
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