Wind power blows military in different directions

Whether it's good or bad depends on the circumstances

The military is harnessing wind to generate power at the same time that troublesome discoveries about the effects of wind turbines on radar are putting military services in conflict with clean-energy efforts.

The Army's Communications-Electronics Research, Development and Engineering Center sees wind power as a key component of future portable power. CERDEC officials wrote on the "Armed With Science" blog at DODLive.mil, that as a follow-up to its Rucksack Enhanced Portable Power System effort, "CERDEC Army Power envisions the next generation of photovoltaic systems to use wind power generation as part of a hybrid system for larger-power demand applications. We call it the Reusing Existing Natural Wind and Solar system, or RENEWS."

RENEWS would combine wind generation and solar power to collect and store energy in a bank of batteries, according to the blog post. The battery banks would have power outlets to allow soldiers and other personnel to plug devices in to use power or charge their own batteries.

"RENEWS falls into this category of higher power production," the post continues. "Once fully developed, the system is designed for two-man lift that provides higher levels of power and energy storage for use with communications and surveillance in a forward-based environment, where vehicular and/or utility-grid power is not always available."

CERDEC is based at Fort Monmouth, N.J. Across the country, in the Mojave Desert, plans to build even more wind turbines have met with resistance from the military, who say the towers interfere with radar.

"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," wrote Leora Broydo Vestel in the New York Times. "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."

According to Vestel's article, when a local developer told Navy and Air Force officials that he was planning to install just three turbines, one each at three industrial locations near an area under military control, the armed forces opposed the project.

"The military says that the thousands of existing turbines in the gusty Tehachapi Mountains, to the west of the R-2508 military complex in the Mojave Desert, have already limited its abilities to test airborne radar used for target detection in F/A-18s and other aircraft," Vestel reported.

Gary Seifert, who has been studying the radar/wind energy clash at the Idaho National Laboratory, an Energy Department research facility, described the situation as a potential train wreck involving "the competing resources for two national needs: energy security and national security.”

About the Author

Technology journalist Michael Hardy is a former FCW editor.

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