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Vermont National Guard poses new challenge for Swanton Wind turbines

The Swanton Wind project is facing new challenges after the Vermont Air National Guard filed a motion to intervene in the Public Service Board process.

“The Vermont Air National Guard is a big deal and they are responsible for keeping us safe,” said Christine Lang, a resident who would be one of the project’s immediate neighbors. “If wind towers are going to affect their ability to train and keep us safe, then that’s a concern.”

Annette Smith, director of Vermonters for a Clean Environment, said this is an unusual development in the history of renewable energy in Vermont.

“This is a new one. I’ve never seen the National Guard come in like this,” she said. “I believe they have legitimate concerns based on the issues that I’ve learned about before. The air space needs protecting and the powers that be like the FAA did not do it in the past, so if these guys want to fight for their air space, then they really have to fight for it.”

Capt. Dyana Allen, a public affairs officer at the Vermont National Guard, told Watchdog in an email that the guard has to take careful consideration in these projects and that the state aviation officer anticipates a safety risk to service members and equipment from the project.

“Any structures can pose a hazard to military aviation, and everything is more difficult to navigate in reduced visibility.” Allen said. “The safety of our service members and equipment is paramount.”

She said there are a lot of different missions that guard members are tasked with for that area.

“The Vermont National Guard cannot predict where or when a search and rescue mission or other support to law enforcement may occur or when it will occur,” she said. “However, we need to be ready to support law enforcement when state of Vermont or federal agencies call upon our service members and equipment to render aid.”

In 2015, the Federal Aviation Administration looked at risks posed by Swanton Wind and its seven 500-foot turbines planned for Rocky Ridge. A preliminary FAA Notice of Presumed Hazard had said the turbines could have “an adverse physical or electromagnetic interference effect upon navigable airspace or air navigation facilities.”

The FAA later gave its approval to the project.

Other FAA studies indicate concerns with wind turbines. In 2013, the FAA and other U.S. government agencies completed three operational field tests as part of an $8 million program to study electromagnetic and physical interference that turbines may cause to aviation radar systems.

“Primary returns from aircraft in the vicinity – including range and bearing – are generally lost near the wind farms, though secondary surveillance from aircraft with functioning transponders is typically not affected,” wrote John Croft for Aerospace and Defense Report. “The FAA, military and homeland security agencies are also concerned about the effects on long-range radar systems.”

Swanton Wind attorney Anthony Iarrapino told the St. Albans Messenger that project developers hadn’t heard from the guard in the year-and-a-half since the FAA gave the green light for the project. “They have never reached out to discuss their concerns,” he said.

However, a Nov. 17, 2015, letter from Maj. Gen. Steven Cray to the Public Service Board seems to indicate possible concerns: “Test flights usually require flight at different altitudes at varying air speeds, from a safety perspective the more we minimize the obsticles in the test flight area, the lower the risk. … The proposed project would clearly have an adverse impact on our flight training exercises.”