About a year ago, state lawmakers called for shutting down the Amazon Wind Farm US East over concerns it would cause too much interference with a vital, U.S. Navy long-range radar receiver in Chesapeake.
Were their fears justified or not? The Navy should soon know.
The Navy’s analysis of the wind farm’s first year of operations should be done by this spring, according to Katisha Draughn-Fraguada, a public affairs officer for Naval Support Activity Hampton Roads, which includes the Forces Surveillance Support Center. That center operates the “relocatable over-the-horizon-radar” system that provides “critical surveillance capability to support the US Southern Command Counter Narco-Terrorism mission,” she explained.
The ROTHR receiver is in southern Chesapeake, putting it roughly within 30 miles of the Amazon wind farm in Pasquotank and Perquimans counties. That’s raised questions about whether the wind farm’s turbines would cause too much electromagnetic interference and risk blinding ROTHR to illicit activities off the southern east coast. After years of negotiations, and based on modeling from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology Lincoln Labs, the Navy and wind farm developer Avangrid Renewables struck a deal in 2014 to allow 104 turbines to be built in specific locations, and to study their impacts in their first year of operation.
That agreement wasn’t good enough for 10 Republican state lawmakers, including Sen. Bill Cook, R-Beaufort, and a retired Marine major general who urged the incoming Trump administration to shut down the wind farm. In a letter publicized in January 2017 – less than a month after the farm started operating – they called for shutting down the farm due to its “imminent, highly likely, unacceptable threat to our national security.”
Today, it appears that letter had little impact. The wind farm is operating normally, according to the developer, and the Navy is continuing to study it – although it’s too soon to say how well it’s getting along with the ROTHR receiver.
“Evaluation of data from post-construction field measurements to validate the results of the 2014 predictive modeling by MIT Lincoln Labs is ongoing,” Draughn-Fraguada reported Friday. She explained that Lincoln Labs, the Forces Support Surveillance Support Center and the Naval Research Laboratory collected data from specific turbines in January 2017, followed by data collection for the entire wind farm in July 2017.
She continued that, if the field testing reveals more than the allowable interference, the Navy and Avangrid must consult with technical experts to figure out how to reduce it. Notably, the Navy’s agreement provides the wind farm cannot be forced to stop operations without a clearly defined national security emergency.
Though Avangrid is “generally pleased with the performance of the project,” it’s not speculating whether its turbines are causing acceptable interference or not, based on an email from Avangrid spokesman Paul Copleman. Copleman said he deferred to the Department of Defense as to whether the wind farm has lived up to the 2014 modeling.
As the region waits for the Navy’s determination, The Daily Advance also asked Cook whether he still believed the wind farm should be shut down. Cook reiterated Friday that his “position has always been that if the interference to the ROTHR facility could not be fully removed, then the offending turbines should be shut down.” Notably, the letter Cook signed describes the “preferred option” as “shut down this project permanently,” with the “secondary option” being to require shutting down any and all turbines causing significant interference.
During the debate about shutting down the wind farm, Rep. Bob Steinburg, R-Chowan, vocally defended the wind farm, urging fellow Republicans to visit the site. That visit led to House Speaker Tim Moore, R-Cleveland, softening his opposition to the project.
On Friday, Steinburg said he wasn’t aware of any further efforts against the wind farm – though he wasn’t told in advance about the shutdown letter either, he acknowledged. He also said the military and Avangrid have a great working relationship, based on conversations he’s had with Naval personnel, and the threat of a shutdown is hopefully over.
“Everything I’ve seen indicates this issue has been resolved,” he said. Steinburg also added the developer still hopes to build up to 46 additional turbines, but he’s not sure if or when they’ll press forward with them.
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