For several years now, Britain’s burgeoning wind industry has had an unlikely foe: the Ministry of Defence (MoD). It’s not that the MoD wants coal-powered tanks or anything; in fact they actually believe that climate change might be a dangerous, destabilizing event.
The problem is much more mundane: offshore wind farms place large spinning objects low to the horizon. Large spinning objects, it turns out, don’t play nice with air-defence radars. The problem has been well documented by the US Pentagon. It’s pretty simple, wind turbines scatter radar beams, creating “clutter” on observers’ screens, and blinding them to certain areas. A low flying aircraft or cruise missile could use a wind farm to evade air defences, the MoD argues.
Now a solution has been found for at least one part of the UK’s air defence net. Today RenewableUK, an industry trade group, announced that they had reached a deal with the MoD to replace the air defence radar at Trimingham with a shiny, new Lockheed Martin TPS-77 (pictured right, and click here for Lockheed’s amazing sales video).
In 2008, the Danish Air Force conducted trials with the TPS-77 that showed it was able to discriminate between the windmills and aircraft. Under the agreement, the UK’s Department of Energy and Climate Change will kick in around £4 million for the US$15 million radar system, and a consortium of wind developers will provide an additional undisclosed amount.
In exchange, the MoD will drop its objection to five wind farms in various stages of planning along the Greater Wash region near Norfolk. Together, those farms will supply some 3 Gigawatts of wind power to Britain—around 10% of the nation’s goal of 33 Gigawatts by 2020. The TPS-77 will keep vigil over the farms to make sure that the Norse and Saxon raiders lurking just over the horizon don’t try anything.
Nicola Vaughan, Head of Aviation at RenewableUK, says that the agreement is a major step forward. There are still other areas where civil and military aviation officials have concerns Vaughan says, but she told me that she thinks this agreement could pave the way to other projects.