Sept. 1, 2006 – Environmentalists and alternative-energy advocates say the US Department of Defense is stymieing the development of wind-energy projects after failing to meet a second deadline regarding the impact of wind farms on military radar.
The environmental group Sierra Club, which filed a lawsuit in June to compel the agency to finish a study on wind farms and radar, accused the Department of "foot-dragging" and "paralyzing" clean-energy development.
"There are a lot of energy issues being discussed in the country," Sierra Club spokesperson David Willett told The NewStandard, "both in terms of energy costs and the way our energy sources contribute to global warming, and this would be a perfect time to be building more wind-power plants. So any delay for that is providing multiple costs both in terms of environmental protection and in financial burden for power on the American people."
The Defense Department first missed a May 8 deadline to deliver an assessment to Congress on whether winds farms obstruct nearby military radar installations, and to determine technologies to mitigate any adverse effects on military operations. Groups say wind farms at military bases at GuantÃ¡namo Bay in Cuba and Ascension Island in the South Atlantic are examples that the government is already finding solutions to reduce or eliminate the impact of wind turbines on military radar.
Groups say wind farms at military bases at GuantÃ¡namo Bay in Cuba and Ascension Island in the South Atlantic are examples that the government is already finding solutions to reduce or eliminate the impact of wind turbines on military radar.
The study was required in a last minute amendment that US Senator John Warner (R-Virginia) attached to a 2006 defense appropriations bill. Critics say the missed deadlines and the delays in approving wind-farm projects threaten to disqualify some developers from a clean energy federal tax credit that expires at the end of 2007.
In response to the missed deadline, Sierra Club filed a lawsuit in federal court accusing the Defense Department of unlawfully withholding or unreasonably delaying information under the Administrative Procedures Act.
The Department had until August 28 to respond to Sierra Clubâ€™s challenge and explain why it had failed to turn in the study on time. However, according to Sierra Club, the Departmentâ€™s lawyers instead told the group it would not be able to meet this deadline either and requested an extension until the first week of October. Sierra Clubâ€™s Willett said the organization consented to the Departmentâ€™s request.
The Defense Department refused to respond to TNSâ€™s specific questions about the missed deadlines, stating only that it does "not discuss details of pending lawsuits." However in a prepared statement on the issue, the agency said it "will continue to work to complete the report as soon as possible" and that it "must ensure it is accurate and complete."
Meanwhile, the Defense Department is following an interim policy to contest the proposed construction of wind farms that would be "in the radar field of view of the long-range air defense radars."
"â€¦this would be a perfect time to be building more wind-power plants. So any delay for that is providing multiple costs both in terms of environmental protection and in financial burden for power on the American people."
The final decision on wind-farm permits, however, is up to the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA). According to FAA spokesperson Diane Spitaliere, the FAA is continuing to review all applications it receives, the number of which has increased "dramatically" over the last several years. Spitaliere said the FAA has only denied four permit applications completely since 2004 due to possible radar interference.
But environmental groups are concerned about what they say is an increasing number of "Notices of Presumptive Hazard," which postpone a project from going forward until possible interference with radar is mitigated.
Spitaliere could not say how many such notices have been issued since the Defense Department instituted its interim policy on wind farms.
Some groups also say political motivations are behind the Departmentâ€™s study and delay of wind-farm construction. Senator Warner has also tried to stop the Cape Cod wind farm planned for Nantucket Sound. As previously reported by TNS, in 2004, Warner attempted to attach an amendment to a defense spending bill that would have authorized a moratorium on all offshore wind projects in federally controlled waters.
Some opponents of wind farms are concerned about the impact on migratory birds, bats and other wildlife, while others cite aesthetic disapproval of the giant wind turbines. But reasons for political opposition remain unclear.
According to the American Wind Energy Association, an industry group, as of January 2005, the US had about 6,740 megawatts of wind power capacity â€“ enough to provide power to about 4.3 million people.