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Fort Drum officials talk wind turbine challenges, plans to work with developers  

The turbines at the Maple Ridge wind farm could be seen in blue dots on radar screens, flickering as the turbine blades turned. Each of the moving turbines displayed similarly to a moving airplane, creating some stress as the radar system tracks all aircraft within its viewing range of 160 miles. If overloaded, the system may drop legitimate aircraft to follow the turbine movements.

Credit:  By Gordon Block and Marcus Wolf | Watertown Daily Times | July 29, 2017 | www.watertowndailytimes.com ~~

FORT DRUM – Military officials are working quickly in the face of changing winds in Lewis County, coming in the form of new turbine developments near its Wheeler-Sack Army Airfield.

On one hand, officials told the Times the turbines affect military and weather radar, creating a potential “black hole” of visibility and producing false weather data that cannot currently be fully mitigated.

On the other hand, post officials, stressing their ties to the community, are wary of cutting into potential economic activity outside of the post, and said they wanted to work with developers to reduce potential conflicts.

“We want to say, ‘Here’s the risk you’re presenting to our operation,’” said Col. Bryan J. Laske, Fort Drum’s garrison commander.

Post officials outlined the potential complications of additional turbines during a tour of the airfield’s 160-foot-tall tower for the Times this week, explaining in the most detail yet what an expansion of wind power could mean for their future. The Times set up a tour following a meeting and tour there for Lewis County legislators on Monday.

“It was a positive, progressive meeting,” said Legislature Chairman Michael A. Tabolt, R-Croghan. “We came out of there with a better understanding of where they were coming from.”

The Lewis County projects are of heightened importance to the military compared to other locations due to their proximity to the post’s flight areas and the higher altitude of the turbines in relation to the airfield.

The county Legislature in June passed a resolution opposing a bill proposed by the state Senate that would prohibit wind energy facility development within 40 miles of an airbase or airfield. The resolution was adopted in a 10-0 vote.

Post officials, Mr. Tabolt said, wanted to learn more about the projects and asked Lewis County officials to provide them with updates as they move forward in their development because “they have to prepare.”

He declined to provide additional details.

“I don’t want to try to give answers on anything that involves national security,” Mr. Tabolt said. “I don’t want to get in trouble with Fort Drum.”

For military operations, an increase in turbines could create challenges in viewing traffic and a planned expansion of unmanned aircraft.

The airfield houses Army and Air Force helicopters and drones, and is used for training by units across the military, including those using live bombs on its Range 48.

“It’s a unique capability for an Army installation,” Col. Laske said.

The turbines at the Maple Ridge wind farm could be seen in blue dots on radar screens, flickering as the turbine blades turned. Each of the moving turbines displayed similarly to a moving airplane, creating some stress as the radar system tracks all aircraft within its viewing range of 160 miles. If overloaded, the system may drop legitimate aircraft to follow the turbine movements.

“The system is still processing them as targets, and getting close to saturation,” said Derek R. Kallen, air traffic control manager. “It gets cluttered pretty quick.”

Mr. Kallen said their software can block activity in the area of the turbines, but it also has the negative effect of creating “a black hole” for air traffic near the turbines.

“It’s not a big issue now, but when you have three to four more projects down there, it becomes a much bigger problem,” Mr. Kallen said, pointing to the screen. “This all disappears.”

The challenges come as 10th Mountain Division leadership looks to prepare for future fights, primarily ones with multiple unmanned drones.

The military has areas to fly manned aircraft across the entirety of Jefferson County, most of Lewis County and smaller pieces of St. Lawrence and Oswego counties.

However, it does not have a similar capacity with its unmanned aircraft, an issue that Col. Laske said they are working with the Federal Aviation Administration to expand the area where they can use drones locally.
WEATHER RADAR AFFECTED

On the weather side of operations, the potential for more projects could limit the effectiveness of the Montague weather radar station, maintained by Air Force personnel based at the airfield. The radar, which has a radius of 248 nautical miles, is used by National Weather Service staff in Buffalo and Burlington, Vt.

Forecasters run into issues as outgoing and incoming radio waves used to measure weather hit the turbines, contaminating the information coming back.

“It looks like rain, but it’s just the turbines moving,” said Capt. Patrick Phillippi, of the Air Force’s 18th Weather Squadron, Detachment 1.

The turbines also impact radar by creating a “ghost echo,” a secondary layer of map data that can incorrectly show weather activity, or underestimate activity taking place.

“That data will be seriously contaminated by the time we get it back,” Capt. Phillippi said.

On both ends of the turbine challenges, cooperation is seen as a way to help keep radar systems running.

In the case of the weather turbine, Capt. Phillippi said Air Force personnel are looking to identify which towers cause the most data contamination, and have found companies willing to work with them to reduce interference.

The Air Force captain said moving the weather radar was not feasible, given the cost and difficulty of moving the fragile system, and that there would be no system that could fill in during the transition.

Col. Laske said he wanted to work with more officials at the local and state levels to ensure the post had a voice in the development of projects.

“We want development in the north country. That’s good for the surrounding community,” Col. Laske said. “We don’t want to scream ‘No turbines.’ We want to participate more in the process.”

Another piece of the puzzle is the results from the Fort Drum Joint Land Use Study, administered by the Development Authority of the North Country. Among the research points is energy development, which includes wind turbines.

Michelle L. Capone, DANC’s regional development director, said the study is about halfway finished, with the consultant finalizing the report’s first five chapters for discussion within the next few weeks. Among those initial chapters being completed are findings on encroachment issues, including those posed by wind turbines.

Additional public comment periods about the study are expected in the next two months, but dates have not yet been set.

Source:  By Gordon Block and Marcus Wolf | Watertown Daily Times | July 29, 2017 | www.watertowndailytimes.com

This article is the work of the source indicated. Any opinions expressed in it are not necessarily those of National Wind Watch.

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