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Lawmakers crack down on wind-turbine lights that flash all night 

Credit:  By Shannon Najmabadi | April 30, 2023 | wsj.com ~~

Red lights on wind turbines flash against an overcast sky in Allen County, Kan.
Photo: Evert Nelson/The Capital-Journal/USA Today Network

For pilots flying over rural America, a string of red lights flashing along the horizon is a warning that there might be a wind farm ahead.

But for many residents on the ground, the lights are an eyesore that has ruined their view of the night sky and disrupted the bucolic stillness that defined their counties.

“Imagine … red blinking stoplights…every night, all night long … and not in sync,” Gayla Randel, who can see the lights on more than 130 turbines from her Marshall County, Kan., home, told lawmakers this year.

After years of loose regulation, lawmakers in some states are cracking down.

Kansas and Colorado recently passed laws to limit the flashing lights—by turning them on only when aircraft are approaching. North Dakota approved a similar measure in 2017. A Washington state bill requiring light-mitigating technology was passed by lawmakers but hasn’t yet been signed by the governor.

Many wind developers and renewable energy proponents have backed the recent efforts.

“Light-mitigation technology is definitely something that can be done to help improve the relationship with the community,” said Kimberly Svaty, public policy director for the Kansas Power Alliance, which represents the interests of wind, solar, battery-storage and advanced-power industries.

Aircraft-detection technology approved by the Federal Aviation Administration has been on the market for a half-dozen years. The systems are estimated to cost $1 million to $2 million to install with additional operating expenses each year.

Wind energy projects in the U.S., largely concentrated in a high-wind-speed corridor stretching from North Dakota to West Texas, have been slow to adopt the mitigation solutions. None of the more than 40 wind farms in Kansas, one of the top states for wind-energy producing, use systems that light up only when aircraft are near. Two projects under construction in Kansas have been approved to use the light-minimizing technology.

Jerry Sonnenberg, a Republican former state senator who wrote the red-light law in Colorado, said the technology isn’t cost-prohibitive for most companies, but they have not been required to use it.

“When they’re not forced to spend that money, why would they?” he said.

Mr. Sonnenberg, now a county commissioner, compared the red lights to those on an ambulance and said the flashing is “rather annoying.”

The new laws come as federal Inflation Reduction Act funding is spurring investment in renewable energy projects—and as wind and solar developments are encountering stiff opposition from some communities.

Towns, counties and states passed some 1,800 ordinances regulating wind energy as of 2022, according to a database compiled by the National Renewable Energy Laboratory. By comparison, researchers there found around 250 ordinances in 2018.

José Zayas, an executive vice president with the American Council on Renewable Energy, said the rise in regulation reflects the maturation of the wind market.

Officials with Terma and DeTect Inc., the two vendors that dominate the market on aircraft-detection lighting systems, said they have seen demand for their technology increase significantly since 2018 and 2019, when counties and states increasingly began to require its use.

The companies use radars to activate red lights if a low-flying aircraft comes within 3½ miles of a project.

DeTect has installed or is about to install 100 radars, with one to three used for a typical wind farm, depending on its size and the terrain, said Senior Vice President Jesse Lewis.

The Federal Aviation Administration requires that wind turbines be painted a light color and have red lights on top. Developers are required to ask the agency to approve the use of light-mitigating technology for each project under the new laws.

Residents in states that don’t regulate the red lights have said the nighttime presence of the turbines has been more disruptive than they anticipated.

Nakila Blessing and her husband built a house on his family’s farm in Schuyler County, Mo., in 2018, on a hill looking out at fields and trees. Two years later, the 175-turbine High Prairie wind farm project was constructed. Ms. Blessing said their landscape is now cluttered with 500-foot-tall turbines and the night sky is polluted with light.

“They like to say you’ll get used to it,” said Ms. Blessing, of the turbines that surround her home on three sides. “You don’t get used to it.”

Carrie March’s family keeps the curtains drawn on their home to avoid the sight of turbines “spinning during the day or flashing at night.”

“At nighttime, if you have the TV on and there happens to be a gap in the curtain, it will really, really attract your attention,” said Ms. March, who also lives in Schuyler County. “It’s just something that you can’t unsee and you can’t ignore.”

Ameren Missouri, which operates the project near Ms. Blessing and Ms. March, said that it believes residents appreciate the company’s investment in the region, and that company officials will look to be part of conversations on light-mitigating legislation when it comes to Missouri.

For residents living close to wind farms that have already been constructed, the new curbs on red lights will have limited effect, at least in the short term. Colorado law doesn’t require existing wind turbines to be retrofitted with light-mitigating technology. Starting in 2026, wind developers in Kansas must apply to use the technology after they renegotiate power purchase contracts. The terms for those agreements can last 20 years.

Older wind projects in Washington state have to apply for the new technology by early 2028. The time frame for retrofitting got pushback from some energy groups and developers who said it is too great an expense for wind farms already locked into fixed-price contracts with their buyers.

“It just screws up the economics of the project,” said Spencer Gray, executive director of the Northwest & Intermountain Power Producers Coalition.

Some residents who live near wind farms say the light-mitigation laws are a good first step but don’t go far enough.

Ms. March said the new laws don’t address the litany of other complaints those who live near turbines have levied, including the sound of whooshing blades and the sense that they now reside in an industrial zone.

It “has destroyed everything that we built the house for,” she said.

Source:  By Shannon Najmabadi | April 30, 2023 | wsj.com

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

The copyright of this article resides with the author or publisher indicated. As part of its noncommercial educational effort to present the environmental, social, scientific, and economic issues of large-scale wind power development to a global audience seeking such information, National Wind Watch endeavors to observe “fair use” as provided for in section 107 of U.S. Copyright Law and similar “fair dealing” provisions of the copyright laws of other nations. Send requests to excerpt, general inquiries, and comments via e-mail.

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