Saturday, June 10, 2006

Wind-Power Projects Halted: Supporters See Political Motive Behind Defense Dept. Study
Wind-Power Projects Halted
Supporters See Political Motive Behind Defense Dept. Study
By Kari Lydersen
Washington Post Staff Writer

CHICAGO -- More than 130 wind turbines are proposed for the hilltops of central Wisconsin, but that project and at least 11 others have been halted by the Defense Department as it studies whether the projects could interfere with military radar.

Wind farm developers, Midwestern legislators and environmentalists say the farms pose no risk, noting that there are already numerous wind farms operating in military radar areas. They say a renewable, domestic source of energy such as wind is crucial to energy security and independence.

They say their wind turbines are victims of the ongoing dispute between Cape Cod residents and developers of the proposed Cape Wind farm in Nantucket Sound. The Defense Department study was put in the 2006 Defense Authorization Act -- inserted, say wind farm developers, by senators who want to block Cape Wind.

"This legislation was intended to derail Cape Wind, but it had a boomerang effect and affected a lot of projects around the country," said Michael Skelly of Horizon Wind Energy, a Texas company constructing the country's largest wind farm near Bloomington, Ill.

This spring, facilities in the works in North Dakota, South Dakota, Illinois and Wisconsin received "proposed hazard" letters from the Federal Aviation Administration saying the projects must be halted pending the Defense Department study.

FAA spokeswoman Diane Spitaliere said the letters are in keeping with the agency's usual review process, which has been slowed by the quickly increasing number of permit applications for wind turbines nationwide.

The FAA has received more than 4,100 wind turbine applications so far this year, compared with about 4,300 in 2005 and 1,982 in 2004. An offshore wind farm of as many as 170 turbines is planned in the Gulf of Mexico off South Padre Island, Tex. The $2 billion project will generate enough electricity for 125,000 homes. At meetings in Madison, Wis., and Toledo this month, industry and government officials will discuss an offshore wind farm in the Great Lakes.

Sen. Richard J. Durbin (D-Ill.) said the Defense Department study could have a chilling effect on the development of wind power nationwide.

A June 2 letter to the Defense Department signed by Durbin and five other Midwestern senators said, "Since much of the nation is in radar line of sight, this interim policy has a sweeping effect." It noted that multiple wind farms are already operating in the radar line of sight of military and Homeland Security installations, "without any problems that we are aware of."

Mark Jacobson of Invenergy LLC, the company developing the Forward Wind Energy Center in central Wisconsin, points to the Horse Hollow Wind Energy Center near Dyess Air Force Base in Abilene, Tex.

"There are half a dozen Air Force sites that have wind projects next to them," he said. "There seems to be little consistency in how they're identifying whether a project is impacting a radar site or not. It's a wide net being cast out to stop any project in its tracks until this study is complete, and there's no clear deadline being adhered to for the study."

Critics of Cape Wind, including Sen. John W. Warner (R-Va.) and Sen. Edward M. Kennedy (D-Mass.), have said that the 130 proposed turbines about six miles offshore would hurt views, tourism and migratory birds.

Some neighbors of the Midwestern projects oppose them on similar grounds. Opponents of the Forward Wind Energy Center say it could harm wildlife, including sandhill cranes and bats that nest in a nearby mine. A lawsuit has been filed trying to block construction of Horizon Wind Energy's Bloomington wind farm, which received a "proposed hazard" letter but was cleared to continue. The lawsuit said huge moving shadows from the turbines could nauseate residents.

Defense and FAA officials said the "proposed hazard" letters are not prohibiting the wind farms, just delaying them until any risks to military operations can be assessed and resolved.

"We're not saying, 'No, you can't do this,' " Spitaliere said. "We're looking to work with the proposals to mitigate the hazard."

Ed Blume, spokesman for the nonprofit renewable energy group Renew Wisconsin, lamented that the local economy could lose out during the bureaucratic process.

"In this part of the country, we have a certain construction season, and if you get beyond that season you're looking at a whole year's delay," he said. "A farmer who has a turbine on their land gets $4,000 to $5,000 per year for that turbine. This comes down to the individual farmer losing money they thought they'd have this year."