U.S. Senators Flex Muscles on Wind Power, Radar Issue

U.S. Senators Barack Obama (D-IL) and Dick Durbin (D-IL) announced that they will put a hold on the nomination of Andrew Steinberg to be Assistant Secretary for Aviation and International Affairs until the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) issues a conclusive determination as to whether the operation of wind farms under construction in the Midwest will interfere with radar systems. A hold has the effect of blocking a nomination.

“The Administration’s promised response on windmill construction is long overdue. It is time for a straight answer,” said Durbin. “Windmills have become an important source of clean alternative energy throughout the country and are particularly important in the Midwest, which has more cumulative wind energy potential than any other area in the country. If there are real problems, we should find ways to mitigate, reduce or eliminate them, but our wind farm owners deserve an answer today.” The 2006 Defense Authorization Act called for the Department of Defense (DOD) to submit a report to Congress on the effects of windmill farms on military readiness. In particular, the report sought to determine whether wind farms could interfere with military radar. On March 21, 2006, DOD and the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) issued a joint interim policy on the proposed windmill locations that states, “The DOD/DHS Long Range Radar Joint Program Office Interim Policy is to contest any establishment of windmill farms within radar line of site of the National Air Defense and Homeland Security Radars.” The Midwest Regional Office of the FAA sent “notice of presumed hazard” letters to wind farm sites that they had determined are in the line of site. The FAA defined “in the line of site” as any windmill within a 60-mile radius of a radar center or radar tower. By this definition, much of the nation is now in the radar line of site, and this interim policy has had a sweeping effect that has stalled or stopped the development of wind energy facilities across the country, including more than a dozen in the Midwest. Senators Obama and Durbin said they will block Mr. Steinberg’s nomination until the FAA works with DOD to clarify whether these sites will be able to operate. Without this certainty, potential investors will fear the loss of their resources. “While I take very seriously any concerns that these structures could interfere with military readiness, I also believe that with mounting instability in the Middle East and energy prices at record levels, we must begin investing in alternative energy sources today,” said Sen. Obama. “Wind farms are an important part of our ongoing efforts to make the United States more energy independent, which is why the FAA needs to immediately clarify its position so that investors feel comfortable putting their money into these projects and construction crews can get to work.” One of the stalled projects is located in Bloomington, Illinois. If completed, the wind farm would be the largest source of wind energy in the nation, generating enough power to serve an estimated 120,000 Chicago-area homes. On June 2, 2006, Senators Durbin, Obama, Russ Feingold (D-WI), Herb Kohl (D-WI), Kent Conrad (D-ND) and Byron Dorgan (D-ND) wrote letters to officials at DOD and FAA voicing their support for the responsible development of wind power.
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