Air defence could shatter UK’s energy dream

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The Ministry of Defence could undermine the government’s targets for UK renewable energy if it continues to oppose wind farms, according to a Royal Society announcement earlier this week.

Last year, the MoD objected to almost half of all proposed wind farms because of concerns connected with the interference of air defence radar. The British Wind Energy Association (BWEA) claims the MoD opposed 48% of pre-applications to build land-based wind farms in 2003 and 34% of pre-applications in 2002.

The society’s announcement came days after the publication of the government’s Renewables Innovation Review, which says wind power is likely to be the dominant renewable technology until 2020. The review says both on- and off-shore wind can deliver almost all the necessary growth to meet the 2010 renewable energy target.

The vice president of the Royal Society, Professor David Wallace, wrote a letter to the minister responsible for defence estates, Ivor Caplin, in which he attacked the MoD’s rejection of any wind development application within 74km of air defence radars. He points out that, with 13 such installations, this “moratorium” covers much of the UK.

Wallace goes on to mention that the restrictions are at odds with the rest of Europe. Germany is the only other country to impose a distance restriction and, even then, it is set at 5km.

The Royal Society has issued a submission to the inquiry by the House of Lords Science and Technology Committee into the practicalities of developing renewable energy.

The BWEA has tried to eliminate the problem of radar interference by promoting the development of advanced radar filters, such as the AMS Advanced Digital Tracker. The association says it looks for other technical solutions but is at a disadvantage because those “better equipped with knowledge and expertise on radar issues remain within the military and civil aviation field”.

The Wind Energy and Aviation Interests Steering Group, chaired by DTI, has led most of the progress into the issue. However, the group – which comprises members of the wind industry and aviation stakeholders – has spent over two years trying to understand why turbines are visible on radar and the BWEA believes it needs fresh impetus to find a solution to the problem.

BWEA’s head of onshore wind, Chris Tomlinson, said: “We do not believe that the Steering Group is going to unlock this issue to any significant degree with its current work programme. The focus needs to be clearly on opening up technical mitigation solutions to deal with radar concerns.”