FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE: May 11, 2012
CONTACT: Lisa Meiman, 720-962-7050, CORPCOMM@wapa.gov
Brian Connor, 202‑586‑3756, Brian.Connor@ee.doe.gov
Western helicopter ‘buzzes’ wind farms for radar testing
LAKEWOOD, Colo. – Western Area Power Administration recently participated in a study to limit any potential impact wind farms may have on radar systems run by the Federal Aviation Administration, the Department of Defense and the Department of Homeland Security.
|Western Area Power Administration’s Bell 407 helicopter out of Huron, S.D., flies in and around wind farms in Minnesota May 2-3 to test radar technologies and how well they limit electromagnetic interference from the turbines. Western was participating in a larger radar study conducted by Departments of Energy, Defense and Homeland Security. Photos courtesy of Brian Harry of CSpeed, LLC]|
On May 2 and 3, Western’s Huron-based Bell 407 helicopter in South Dakota flew numerous test patterns over three wind farms in Minnesota to test technology designed to “clear up” the radar signal in and around wind farms.
“In certain areas like Montana, Minnesota, North Dakota and South Dakota, there are several wind farms up and running, and more projects in the making. The FAA and military radar facilities are concerned about electromagnetic interference from the wind farms on radar, which is generated by the running turbines. They also worry about the physical interference,” said Aviation Manager Bruce Hunt.
There are three possible issues with magnetic field interference on the radar operator’s screen:
In these cases, radar operators wouldn’t know what aircraft, flight pattern, speed or altitude was in the area, resulting in air traffic control safety and national defense/security concerns.
About a year ago, Federal agencies, headed by the Department of Energy’s Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy program, teamed up with DOD’s Massachusetts Institute of Technology’s Lincoln Lab and Department of Energy’s Sandia National Lab, to test how well commercial, off the shelf, radar vendors’ technology can identify aircraft near wind farms.
“Sometimes, you lose coverage directly over a wind farm,” admitted EERE Wind and Water Power Program Brian Connor, who led the project. “We were testing to see if these technologies would restore lost radar coverage and mitigate other impacts.”
Planes both contracted and government-owned flew several assigned flight patterns a day around the Minnesota wind farms. They carried Global Positioning System equipment to see how well certain radar technologies could track the aircraft with minimum disruption. Western boasted the only helicopter in the test mix.
“They didn’t have any aircraft that could fly at low altitudes. Fixed-wing aircraft have restrictions in how low they can fly. Helicopters are not as restrictive, which is why they called us,” said Hunt.
Tim Kennedy, Western’s pilot in the Upper Great Plains region, was up in the air less than 4 hours each day, but flying at different altitudes and patterns. “Everything went well,” he commented.
“It was fortunate your helicopter was so close to our folks,” said Connor. “We wanted a helicopter, but they were not available at DOD. I called Western, and there was already a helicopter in Huron, which was great, and it was made available for a couple days of testing.”
The tests were done out of Brookings [S.D.], which is only a 30-minute flight from Huron. Other jet and propeller fixed wing aircraft involved in the project were provided by the following agencies:
“We had 1-5 aircraft in the air at one time, weather permitting,” said Connor. “The wind industry wants this just as much as the government agencies. Three wind farm owners volunteered to be test subjects and provided data on hundreds of wind turbines so we will have a good sense of the magnitude and types of the electromagnetic interference.”
Snap-shot test results will be reported for each radar vendor’s technology in about 30 days from MIT Lincoln Lab. More detailed results will be released in about 90 days for internal use by radar agencies. These results will determine if the technology meets the technical and operational requirements.
Before technology can be incorporated into the National Airspace System, it has to go through time-consuming and thorough FAA certification process, which can take a year or longer. It must be tested in all weather conditions. This two-week test is designed to filter technologies so there will be only a few to go through the full certification process.
“If we can certify some of these technologies, more land will be made available for wind development,” said Connor.