Cape Wind Flies in Under the Radar

The most recent Department of Defense (DOD) report analyzing the effects of offshore wind turbines on early warning radar missile defense systems is good news for Massachusetts’ highly publicized Cape Wind project, which is scheduled to come online in 2010.

Issued by the Missile Defense Agency, the nine-page report recommends a 25-kilometer (km) wind turbine offset or buffer zone be established to “mitigate impact” on the PAVE PAWS early warning radar system at the Cape Cod Air Force Station (AFS).

The Cape Wind project in Nantucket Sound, with its 130 GE 3.6-megawatt XL wind turbines in Nantucket Sound, falls just outside this zone. In addition, the analysis shows the wind turbines in Hull, Massachusetts, are also beyond the recommended buffer.

“The report is clear,” said Mark Rodgers, spokesman for Cape Wind Associates, the Boston-based company behind the project. “Cape Wind is outside of the wind turbine offset zone…it puts the PAVE PAWS issue to rest.”

PAVE PAWS is an Air Force phased array radar system with two primary missions: missile warning and space surveillance. While providing surveillance, it is capable of detecting and tracking Inter-Continental Ballistic Missiles and Submarine Launched Ballistic Missiles that enter its field of view. After detection, the objects are continuously tracked. The second mission is to support the Space Surveillance Network, which involves the surveillance and tracking of earth satellites and identification of other space objects.

Opponents of the Cape Wind project argue that building an offshore wind farm just 27.3 km from PAVE PAWS—just a few miles outside the reccommend offset zone—is too great a risk and leaves no margin for error in terms of national security.

“Why take chances on national security when we can eliminate the risk by siting this project elsewhere?” stated Alliance to Protect Nantucket Sound President and CEO Charles Vinick in a statement issued last week responding to the DOD report.

The analysis by the DOD, however, is the third such report to be issued in recent years that has found the Cape Wind project would not negatively impact or be a concern to the PAVE PAWS radar system. According to the nonprofit grassroots organization Clean Power Now, the analysis confirms what Lieutenant Colonel Gentry, commander of the 6th Space Warning Squadron at the Cape Cod Air Station has previously said, “There will be no impact from Cape Wind,” referring to recent findings from the Air Force Space Command.

“The enormous benefits of energy independence, sustainability, and avoidance of greenhouse gas from the Cape Wind project are now ready to be realized as the potential for radar interference has been effectively removed,” said Barbara Hill, Executive Director of Clean Power Now.

For wind turbines that lie within the 25 km offset zone, the report notes that further study would be required to assess the impact accounting for location within the radar’s field of view and the relative height of the wind turbine and the radar’s main beam.

The highly controversial 420-megawatt offshore wind farm is scheduled to be developed off the Cape Cod Coast in the Nantucket Sound. The closest land locations in different directions from the wind farm include Point Gammon in Yarmouth, 4.7 miles to the north; Cape Poge on Martha’s Vineyard, 5.5 miles to the southwest; and points in Nantucket approximately 11 miles to the south and southeast.

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