WOYM: Military Training Flights in Region Don’t Conflict with Plan for Wind Turbines in Botetourt Co

BY: RAY COX
5/24/2020

Military training flights over our region have been covered here recently. One aspect not previously discussed of the many military training routes threading our airspace was the potential these aerial corridors could have for conflict with ground-based civilian commercial endeavors.

This is especially true when these routes are used for low altitude training, sometimes at a surface-skimming 500 feet.

One potential such conflict was cleared during planning for Charlottesville-based Apex Clean Energy’s Rocky Forge wind farm project atop North Mountain in Botetourt County. A plan that included construction of turbines up to a soaring 680 feet was endorsed by the county planning commission recently and awaits approval by the board of supervisors.

The project would be the first on-shore wind farm in the state. The project already has cleared significant hurdles in achieving Department of Defense permission.

One conflict averted was with the Air Force, which stays busy with training in our area, one reason being the unique and challenging nature of mountainous terrain for military aviation.

“Seymour Johnson Air Force Base uses eight military training routes in the central/western VA (VR-041, VR-042, VR-043, VR-083, VR-093, VR-096 and VR-1726/IR-726), with an additional two routes in the southeastern portion of the state (VR-073 and VR-086),” emailed a 4FW/PA Media Ops officer from the base. “The proposed location in that area [Botetourt County] currently does not infringe upon our routes.”

Public information counterparts for the Air Force facility at Joint Base Langley-Eustis in Hampton and Naval Air Station Oceana in Virginia Beach were difficult to reach for their views. In any event, presumably the Navy and Marine Corps were OK with the North Mountain project too.

“We actually just received the signed siting agreement from the Pentagon,” Apex spokesperson Natasha Montague emailed the newspaper’s Laurence Hammack on May 15. “The agreement confirms that Rocky Forge will not adversely affect the military training route that lies over the project area.”

With more clean energy projects such as wind and solar farms sure to come, potential for increasing conflicts with military training routes and particularly in instances of low-altitude operations will certainly follow.

The Defense Department uses a process with the full-throated name of Military Aviation and Installation Assurance Siting Clearinghouse to coordinate approval of civilian projects that may come into conflict with military operations.

The Clearinghouse “works with industry to overcome risks to national security while promoting compatible domestic energy development,” reads the digital introduction to the process that comes to us under imprimatur of the assistant secretary of defense for sustainment.

The text explains the necessity of the process.

“Energy production facilities and transmission projects involving tall structures, such as wind turbines, solar power towers and panels, and electrical transmission towers, may degrade military testing and training operations.”

A listing of a devil’s soup of potential hazards followed. So-called “clutter” generated from wind turbines could interfere with ground-based radar. Turbines near test and training ranges may have a negative impact on airborne radar capabilities. Solar system glint or glare could mess up aircraft in flight as well as air traffic control tower operations. Electromagnetic interference from electrical power generation could upset critical Defense Department testing procedures.

Eric Niiler reported in Wired last year that the military was battling wind farm development all over the country. Recent conflicts were listed in North Carolina, Tennessee, and upstate New York. The Navy proposed making the Pacific Ocean from Big Sur to the Mexican border with California off limits to offshore wind farms on grounds the Navy and Marines used the air, sea surface and below seas for operations.

Debate on these conflicts has mostly been confined to state legislatures where clean energy proponents are pitted against those who support fossil fuels. Although Pentagon officials indicate they do not believe wind power development is an obstacle to military preparedness, increasingly national defense has been used as justification to oppose wind farm development, Niiler reported.

In 2018, 795 wind farm proposals were examined and approved by the Clearinghouse with none being rejected, Niiler wrote.

Discussion in state houses continues.

“Every fight slows the transition to a renewable-powered world,” he wrote.