FAA Probe Puts Wind Farms on Hold

A Federal Aviation Administration study stops work on more than a dozen wind-to-electricity farms. The giant turbines may interfere with military radar. But some say the probe stems from a political battle over a proposed wind farm off Cape Cod.

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Wind turbines, also known as turbine where I come from, have been going up across the country at a record pace. That is one more sign of the interest in reducing reliance on fossil fuels. But at least a dozen wind farm projects are on hold. NPR's David Schaper explains why.

DAVID SCHAPER reporting:

Stan Hellibrand's(ph) dairy farm about 14 miles west of Madison, Wisconsin sits on a high ridge with gorgeous views of Central Wisconsin's rolling corn and hay fields, dotted with wooded groves and dairy barns. And being up so high, Hellibrand's got something else.

Mr. STAN HELLIBRAND (Dairy Farmer): It's always been windy. A lot of people if they're putting up buildings or something, they complain about the wind up here. They want to know if it ever stops blowing.

SCHAPER: Hellibrand was poised to make a little extra money off that stiff breeze by leasing a couple spots in its fields to a company call EKO Energy to put up wind turbines.

Mr. HELLIBRAND: There's going to be one - in that field they want to keep them far enough way from the road and stuff. And then one on my neighbor's farm, Tom Held's, right up at the top of the hill there, and then they're talking about putting...

SCHAPER: But work on this about a dozen other proposed wind farms in Wisconsin, Illinois and North and South Dakota has been put on hold by the Federal Aviation Administration while the Defense Department studies potential interference problems that turbines might cause with military radar installations, a study mandated by Congress.

Mr. MICHAEL VICKERMAN (Renew Wisconsin): The origin of this problem is strictly political.

SCHAPER: Michael Vickerman is with the advocacy group Renew Wisconsin.

Mr. VICKERMAN: The congressional action was really prompted by one project or one proposed project, or one proposed project, that's the Cape Wind project between Martha's Vineyard and Cape Cod.

SCHAPER: That project would put 130 giant wind turbines off the Massachusetts coast, but it's widely opposed by many of the rich, famous and politically powerful who vacation or own property there, including Massachusetts Senator Edward Kennedy, a member of the Armed Services Committee. Wind power advocates say Kennedy had committee chairman John Warner of Virginia tuck an amendment requiring the study into the Defense Reauthorization Bill.

Spokespeople for Kennedy and Warner would not talk on the air, but deny the provision came at Kennedy's behest. Warner's spokesman says his radar concerns are legitimate and points out the legislation does not require any wind projects be put on hold. A Defense spokeswomen says the department decided on its own to temporarily postpone turbine construction within 40 miles of military and commercial radar installations while the study is completed.

Mr. WES SLAYMEKR (EKO Energy): Well, it's very frustrating, obviously.

SCHAPER: Wes Slaymaker is with EKO energy, the company wanting to put turbines on Hellinbrand's farm. He says the wind industry was blindsided and the unexpected delay could cost millions. Some developers have already ordered turbines. Agreements with landowners and utilities may have to be renegotiated, and some could lose out on renewable energy tax credits that expire next year, all for something they say is unnecessary.

Slaymaker and others point out several wind farms already exist close to radar installations. Any interference problems have been fixed with new filters or other technological adjustments with the military and the FAA signing off. Laurie Jodziewicz is with the American Wind Energy Association.

Ms. LAURIE JODZIEWICA (American Wind Energy Association): So we're hoping that this is just a temporary thing, that once everybody takes a look at the issues and looks at the specific sites and the specific radars that maybe affected, that they can really move forward.

SCHAPER: The Defense Department study is expected to be completed soon. The FAA, meanwhile, has begun allowing a couple of the stopped wind farm projects to proceed.

David Schaper, NPR News.

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