August 27, 2010

Wind farms and radar

I'd heard that the primary reason that Cornell abandoned its 2005 plans for a wind farm on Mount Pleasant was the Federal Aviation Administration. This had come up in Dryden meetings, and there was a poster at the East Hill Flying Club, but I didn't know how seriously to take it.

Apparently, this is a common issue near airports both civilian and military, and not just because of the towers' danger to flight paths:

Moving turbine blades can be indistinguishable from airplanes on many radar systems, and they can even cause blackout zones in which planes disappear from radar entirely. Clusters of wind turbines, which can reach as high as 400 feet, look very similar to storm activity on weather radar, making it harder for air traffic controllers to give accurate weather information to pilots...

Eliminating turbine clutter on radar is complicated. Part of the challenge is that many radar systems in use in the United States date back to the 1950s and have outdated processing capabilities - in some cases, less than those of a modern laptop computer. While there are technology fixes to ease interference on these aging systems, it can be tricky to filter out just the turbines.

On radar, "a wind turbine can look like a 747 on final approach," said Peter Drake, technical director at Raytheon, a major provider of radar systems. "We don't want to have the software eliminate a real 747."

The Energy Department is optimistic that all of these issues can be sorted out, but I'm guessing that in the short term this means that large scale wind farms in the immediate vicinity of Tompkins County Airport, especially near the flightpaths, is not likely to be a popular idea with a particular special interest that can actually stop things.

Posted by simon at August 27, 2010 2:16 PM in
Note on photos