An official at the National Weather Service worries about a cluster of proposed nearby wind farms possibly inhibiting the Montague weather radar’s ability to collect crucial information.
The number and proximity of Avangrid Renewables’s turbines for three proposed wind farms in Jefferson, Lewis and Oswego counties to the radar could interfere with its ability to accurately measure incoming storms, flooding and lake effect snow, said Judith M. Levan, meteorologist in charge for the service’s Buffalo station.
Avangrid plans to build its Deer River wind farm in the towns of Pinckney, Harrisburg and Montague; its Roaring Brook wind farm in the town of Martinsburg and its Mad River Wind Farm in the towns of Redfield and Worth. Each project has reached varying stages in the state’s Article 10 review process, which they must undergo before the developer can build them.
With three wind farms proposed for construction anywhere from two to five miles from the radar, Ms. Levan said she decided to notify emergency management officials in Jefferson, Lewis, Oswego and other Central New York counties about her concerns.
Weather service stations across the country with wind projects proposed near weather radars have been notifying local officials, she said.
“Our mission is to protect life and property using those radar stations to issue warnings,” she said. “The proximity of turbines near that radar makes that job typically difficult.”
The radar, used by both the service staff in Buffalo and Burlington, Vt., collects data within a 248 nautical mile radius by emitting an energy beam and rotating it 360 degrees at different elevation angles from 0.5 degrees to 19.5 degrees from the horizon.
The beam, however, would bounce off turbines at the lowest elevation angles, which are used for detecting lake effect snow, heavy rain, hail, damaging winds and tornadoes.
The turbines would then appear in images depicting precipitation and wind velocity, which Ms. Levan and Fort Drum officials, who also rely on the radar, have claimed could create a “ghost echo,” or map data that can incorrectly show or underestimate weather activity taking place.
“The further away they move (the turbines) from the radar itself, that would lessen the impact,” Ms. Levan said. “If they have lower turbines, that would also mitigate the same effect.”
The weather radar is owned by the Department of Defense, which reviews proposed wind energy facilities near military installations, and maintained by Air Force personnel based at the Wheeler-Sack Army Airfield at Fort Drum.
While Ms. Levan said the weather service may “not have a seat at the table” when discussing potential issues with wind farm developers, Fort Drum officials have been receptive to the service’s concerns.
Paul N. Copleman, communications manager with Avangrid, said the developer has worked with Fort Drum, the defense department and weather service for about two years to “identify and mitigate any impacts” to the post and weather radar.
“We are regularly sharing data and analysis on the proposed wind farm operations, and remain committed to finding solutions,” he said. “Our experience across the country has demonstrated that through this cooperative process, wind farms can successfully coexist near military bases and associated facilities.”
Jefferson County Administrator Robert F. Hagemann III said the county’s highway and emergency management departments rely heavily on information from the weather service’s Buffalo staff to consolidate the necessary workforce and resources to deal with snowfall and emergency weather.
The potential for turbines to inhibit the Montague radar from collecting accurate information could affect both departments’ ability to address hazardous weather conditions in a timely fashion, Mr. Hagemann said.
“It’s a genuine concern, and I’m sure as time goes on in the Article 10 process, I’m sure it will be addressed,” he said.
Jefferson County Legislature Chairman Scott A. Gray said the Watertown International Airport also relies on weather data obtained from the Montague radar to ensure safe travel during flights.
Avangrid could pursue a payment-in-lieu-of-taxes for its projects, but Mr. Gray said he believes the Legislature would refuse to approve any agreement for a project with components in Jefferson County that could adversely affect Fort Drum and the weather radar. Should the Legislature take that action, it could kill any possible PILOT agreement.
“We have veto power. Any jurisdiction has veto power over the entire process,” he said. “We’ll advocate for the National Weather Service just like we advocated for Fort Drum.”
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