MoD allows wind farms to be built near military sites

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The Independent Online

Half of all potential wind farms never reach the formal planning stage because of objections by the MoD, which has argued successfully that they pose a danger to sensitive equipment such as radars and seismic sensors.

There are about 90 wind farms in Britain, comprising about 1,000 turbines, but the Government needs to build a further 2,000 farms if it is to meet its 2010 target of generating 10 per cent of the nation's electricity using renewable sources of energy.

Objections by the MoD at the pre-planning stage of an application to build new wind farms have posed the biggest headache for the wind industry because there has been no room for counter argument.

However, this week the ministry will announce that it has lifted its objections to most of the wind farm applications within an 80-kilometre (50-mile) exclusion zone near its Eskdalemuir seismic array in southern Scotland, which is used to monitor the Comprehensive Nuclear Test Ban Treaty.

The MoD imposed the exclusion zone on 1 January 2004 and argued that large wind turbines within the zone would send damaging vibrations into the ground which could interfere with the highly sensitive seismic sensors needed to monitor illicit nuclear explosions in distant parts of the world.

The ban in effect meant that Britain was being deprived of up to 40 per cent of its potential wind-generating capacity from onshore wind farms, the wind industry said.

However, scientists from the University of Keele have now shown that wind turbines would in fact have no significant impact on the equipment as long as they are positioned farther than 17.5km from the seismic array. As a result, the MoD has reduced its exclusion zone to just 10km from the Eskdalemuir seismic array, with the recommendation that any wind turbines built within 17.5km will be made to an improved design to minimise vibrations.

Chris Tomlinson, from the British Wind Energy Association, said that a huge area of southern Scotland and parts of northern England that were barred from planning applications can now be considered for wind farms. "This has huge ramifications for Britain meeting its 2010 targets," Mr Tomlinson said.

Nevertheless, most of the objections to wind farms raised by the MoD and the National Air Traffic Services concern the possibility of interference with military or civilian radar monitoring or controlling the movements of commercial aircraft and warplanes undergoing low-level training exercises.

The wind energy industry and the MoD have agreed to a second research project that will attempt to gauge the level of interference between wind turbines and radar.