Military Early Warning Radar Deal Paves Way for Wind Farms

On Saturday, Aug 27, 2011, Britain’s The Telegraph published, “Military Radar deal paves way for more wind farms across Britain“. The story is not about wind energy-powered radar systems or a friendly collaboration between UK military and renewable energy companies. It is about wind technology companies eliminating Ministry of Defence opposition to new wind farms along Britain’s coastline by paying for military upgrades.

Large-scale UK wind farm development has been on hold because of national security concerns. It has been publicized that Britain’s current early warning radar system for detection of enemy missiles and aircraft is susceptible to false readings from a wind turbine’s spinning blades, which are similar in size to a passenger jet wing. Both civil and military air traffic controllers struggle to distinguish between aircraft and wind turbines.

The solution? North British Windpower, along with other wind energy companies, are purchasing new mobile radar systems from US contractor Lockheed Martin at about £20 million each to upgrade Britain’s early warning system. These new systems can detect the difference between stationary and mobile turbine activity. They also open up UK and Scottish Borders to wind farm development. Offshore wind farms are also planned within the North Sea.

If all objections are overcome, the memorandum of understanding between the Department of Energy and Climate Change and the Ministry of Defence has potential to create about 17.5 gigawatts of wind energy offshore (about 6,000 turbines), plus ten gigawatts of wind energy inland (4,500 turbines).

The decision to pay for military upgrades has not silenced all wind farm opponents. It is claimed that the new turbines (typically 400ft high) will destroy pristine countryside and coastline, and increase electricity bills by tens of billions of pounds. Estimates of generated income for the developers, according to Dr. John Constable, director of the Renewable Energy Foundation, “is a sum nearly five times the annual cost of the entire Ministry of Defence: Army, Navy and RAF combined.”

Mark Rowley, who heads up the Say No to Fallago campaign, said even if a small percentage of the plan is implemented, we would see a wall of, “400 foot turbines stretched across some of the finest landscapes in Scotland.”

Are all parties benefiting from this deal in the long run? For those in opposition, is this the price of progress?

Thanks to Claude Vinet for first tweeting a link to the article, and thanks to our growing following on Twitter!