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Cape Wind: The Air Traffic Safety Issue of a Government-enabled Project

By -- November 8, 2011

“While of course the wind farm may be one of those projects with such overwhelming policy benefits (and political support) as to trump all other considerations, even as they relate to safety, the record expresses no such proposition.”

– Town of Barnstable, Massachusetts v. Federal Aviation Administration, U.S. Court of Appeals (DC Circuit), October 28, 2011.

Earlier this year, Industrial Wind Action Group (home) wrote how turbines sited within fifty miles of U.S. radar installations are now disrupting our navigation aids and impairing U.S. national security.

FAA and military radar experts in the field are well aware of the compromises to radar resolution caused by poorly sited turbines. But with the debate surrounding energy policy dominated by politics and money, they’ve bowed to the pressure.

Last week we learned of another project that poses safety risks.

The D.C. Circuit found that the FAA failed to adequately analyze whether Cape Wind, the controversial proposal to erect 130 utility-scale turbines offshore in Nantucket Sound, would pose a hazard to air navigation. The project’s proponent vigorously defended the agency’s review claiming that for over eight years the FAA repeatedly found the project would pose no hazard. But the record clearly shows otherwise.

In May 2010, the FAA issued identical Determinations of No Hazard for each of the Cape Wind turbines. These determinations were conditioned on implementing a tiered mitigation plan that incrementally upgraded nearby radar systems to correct for any interference the turbines would produce. While the upgrades would limit the impact of the spinning blades, the FAA acknowledged that the “fixes” would reduce the resolution of the radar, and might not work. Like Travis Air Force Base which we previously wrote about, aircraft flying in the area would go undetected or false objects could appear. If, after the turbines go online, the interference was found to be a safety risk, the FAA recommended revising airspace procedures to restrict air traffic to transponder only — also like Travis.

Transponder-only airspace is an unacceptable mitigation option since it relies on pilots complying with the rules. Not all aircraft are adequately equipped and not all pilots may want to be seen. We remind readers that the first thing the 9/11 hijackers did after seizing control of our passenger planes was to turn off the transponders.

Remarkably, this is not the first time the FAA’s No Hazard determinations on wind turbines were overturned by the Courts. In 2008, a near identical finding to the Cape Wind case was reached by the Federal Appeals Court. In that case, Clark County, NV challenged the FAA over turbines proposed to be built several miles from the County’s planned airport.

Windaction.org has interviewed radar specialists familiar with the mitigations implemented at Travis AFB and those proposed near Nantucket Sound and elsewhere. They are very clear that the reduction in radar resolution poses a serious risk to air safety and should not be permitted.

Our national security and air safety have been compromised by wind turbines and U.S. taxpayers are unknowingly funding the degradation of our radar through federal renewable programs. The larger question is why? Why are our agencies and military services allowing these compromises and why are the courts — and not the agencies themselves — being called upon to correct their actions? Indeed, political pressure is playing a role in these compromises along with a general disinterest by many in Washington to consider both the good and bad of renewable energy. Public safety should never take a back seat when siting projects.

The Court had it right when it stated:

While of course the wind farm [Cape Wind] may be one of those projects with such overwhelming policy benefits (and political support) as to trump all other considerations, even as they relate to safety, the record expresses no such proposition. [emphasis added]


  1. john  

    Thanks for writing this one Lisa. As you may be aware the Solyndra issue is just the tip of the iceberg and the wind aspect of it is an absolute political nightmare. You might want to check this out:

    Nstar merger may be delayed until 2012



    The review by Massachusetts utilities regulators has been bogged down by the Patrick administration’s efforts to subject the deal to more stringent environmental standards and rate negotiations — as well as behind-the-scenes pressure on Nstar to buy power from Cape Wind. The state’s motion will be hashed out in a hearing on Nov. 17.

    Note: Please read Barbara Durkin’s comment.


  2. Rolf Westgard  

    Aside from the safety issue, Cape Wind is a $2 billion fiasco. Even the developer admits that in summer when demand peaks and wind dies, the project will produce perhaps 100 erratic MW. You can build a reliable 500 MW gas plant for about a quarter of Cape Wind’s cost.


  3. Politically correct ‘energy’ disrupting weather, aviation and defense radar | JunkScience.com  

    […] Cape Wind: The Air Traffic Safety Issue of a Government-enabled Project Lisa Linowes […]


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