Ministry of Defence concerns about radar interference was the prime reason for the Public Inquiry reporter to recommend that the wind farm be refused, but behind the scenes talks went on between the developers and the MoD to try and find a solution and publication of the reporter’s decision was delayed for 18 months.
In July last year it looked as if the MoD position had softened and a solution may be able to resolve the radar conflict, and opponents to the wind farm forced the Scottish Government to agree to a second Public Inquiry for all new evidence to be heard.
However, it would seem that the safety issue of wind turbines interfering with radar signals are not as easily solved as first thought and no workable solution has been found yet.
Answering questions on the matter in the House of Commons earlier this month, Nicholas Soames, Secretary of State for Defence, admitted: “To date the Ministry of Defence (MOD) has performed two trials on the T101 Air Defence Radar both of which demonstrated that wind turbines had a significant effect on the ability of the radar to detect targets over and around wind turbine developments.
“No direct testing has been performed on the T102 Radar but it is of a sufficiently similar system design to the T101 that it is determined that the radar will be affected by the presence of turbines but not to the same degree as the T101.
“No direct testing has been performed on the T92 Radar but the MOD was involved in a trial of a TPS-77 radar in Denmark which showed the radar to be quite resilient to the degrading effects of turbines. The T92 is of a similar system design and from the same manufacturer and it is determined that the T92 will also be resilient but perhaps not to the same degree because it is older technology.”
And the MoD has so far failed to release their ‘Additional Radar Study’, which formed the basis of their case at the Fallago Rig wind farm inquiry that a solution to radar interference by wind turbines could be possible. As the second Public Inquiry came to a close in April this year the Reporter requested that the document be distributed to the other parties involved in the inquiry “without delay” but those parties are still waiting six months later, and the Reporter has since completed her report and sent it to the Scottish Goverment.
When asked last month when the findings would be made public the Scottish Government response was: “Ministers are considering the findings of the public local inquiry and will announce a decision in due course.”
Renewable energy, which includes wind energy is an important element of the Scottish Government’s programme and the Scottish Government Energy Consents and Deployment Unit (ECDU) has also been investigating possible solutions to the radar-based objections that are currently holding up a significant number of other wind farm applications as well as Fallago Rig.
A feasibility study was published in February 2010, concluding that “it was likely to be possible to mitigate up to 1,033 of the 1,251 turbines spread between 68 developments with actual or likely radar-based objections.
“The proposed solutions involved the use of blanking/in-fill; currently the only available wind turbine mitigation with a proven track record.
“This involves the replacement of radar data, lost due to blanking out turbine clutter, with a ‘patch’ - data from another unaffected radar.”
The difficuly is though that there are far more potential sites needing to be covered by a patch than there are patches available.
“There will be a need for investment in airport or en-route radar system updates and infrastructure,” continues the report. “This investment will need to come from developers or groups of developers.
“The report identifies a technical solution for numerous developments which could be seen as sufficient evidence in itself for a planning authority to justify granting a consent with a condition requiring the implementation of the technical fix before the development can progress.”
The authors of the report are particularly concerned that if a technical solution can be found that would allow some of the wind turbines to be erected it may encourage councils to grant conditional planning permission for other wind farms, when in reality there may never be a way of resolving particular issues with individual wind farm applications.
“While the report shows that it is technically possible to solve the issue, there may be other factors which mean that the solution cannot be realised within the timescale of the consent,” say the report’s authors.