Project Development, Wind Power

Federal Effort to Change Wind Farm Lighting Standards

Wind power seems to have Uncle Sam’s attention lately. Just weeks after receiving new proposed interconnection guidelines from the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, the wind power industry is also seeing federal movement to recommend new lighting layout for commercial wind farms.

Based on an extensive study prompted by the American Wind Energy Association and the Department of Energy, the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) has developed a new set of recommendations for lighting wind farms that will require fewer lights. It is hoped that the new recommendations will make wind farms less visible at night to surrounding areas, and, therefore, easier to site. The new recommendations suggest red or white synchronized flashing strobe lights, at most one half-mile apart, around the perimeter of the wind farm. Daytime lighting and dual lighting of the turbines were both deemed unnecessary. “What we’re trying to do is label the entire wind farm as one large obstruction, not something pilots should try to go between,” said Jim Patterson at the FAA’s William J. Hughes Technical Center in Atlantic City, N.J. The FAA determines warning light requirements for any structure over 200 feet. When turbines began climbing above that height in the late 1990s, developers faced differing recommendations from FAA field offices on how to light their projects. The obstruction lighting guidelines for wind power referred to only one or two wind turbines, not the larger wind farms being installed. “I saw some projects in Texas with lighting arrangements that, if repeated in less rural areas, could be a nuisance to neighbors,” said Mark Haller. Haller, then with York Research, shot aerial video of two projects. In 1999, AWEA, along with the Department of Energy (DOE), met with the FAA, videotapes in hand. DOE offered to fund an FAA study to determine the most effective and efficient lighting techniques for wind projects. Patterson, the study’s principal investigator, originally surveyed four DOE-selected sites, which were later expanded to seven more. All of the wind projects were evaluated from the air to determine which lights in which configurations were the most visible to aircraft pilots. “The goal is to put yourself in the cockpit of a small aircraft in adverse conditions – at a low altitude, in bad weather, and in an area where you probably shouldn’t be,” explained Patterson. “The FAA developed lighting that would allow the pilot to acquire [see] the obstruction, understand it, and get around it.” In 2003, Zilkha Renewable Energy volunteered the Blue Canyon Wind Farm near Lawton, Oklahoma, as a test site for the FAA’s recommendations. Patterson and other FAA officials took to the air in a wide variety of situations to determine how well this arrangement worked. Patterson is finalizing the draft report for the Air Traffic Division. The recommendations will be reviewed, altered if necessary, and incorporated into a revised Advisory Circular on obstruction lighting. “We hope that this partnership model can be replicated in other siting issues the wind industry is currently addressing,” said Wayne Walker, Zilkha’s lead developer for Blue Canyon. The FAA is required to publish its draft recommendations in the Federal Register, collect public comments and then publish a revised Advisory Circular. This process could take a few months, but Patterson indicates that the Air Traffic Division is anxious to get these new recommendations out to the regions. Patterson’s final report will also be released publicly by the FAA’s technical center as a Technical Note in a matter of a few months. Jim Patterson will be discussing the FAA’s process and recommendations at AWEA’s upcoming Wind Power Project Siting Workshop in Boston, Massachusetts, on March 8-9. For more information on the workshop see the following link below. Information courtesy of the American Wind Energy Association