Senator requests radar update to clear way for wind energy

PENDLETON, Ore. (AP) - U.S. Sen. Ron Wyden is asking officials to update Air Force radar in Fossil because the current system is outdated and preventing the generation of nearly 4,000 megawatts of wind energy across eastern Oregon and Washington.

Wyden, an Oregon Democrat, sent a May 21 letter to Pentagon and Federal Aviation Officials asking them to replace the system with technology that can overcome interference created by turbines, reports the East Oregonian.

He developers consistently run into problems with the radar in Fossil, preventing the local wind energy development that has become a leading source of revenue for many communities.

The long-range surveillance radar is jointly managed by the Department of Defense and Homeland Security and is also used for air traffic control.

The FAA has flagged several wind turbines as a potential hazard because they obstruct the radar's ability to monitor airspace.

In 2010, the system was upgraded to allow construction of the 845-megawatt Shepherds Flat Wind Farm in Gilliam and Morrow counties. But Wyden says the administration should replace the entire Fossil radar to allow further projects.

"I appreciate the significance of your agencies' responsibilities in Eastern Oregon, and I strongly support your efforts to ensure national defense and safe skies," he wrote.

"I do not, however, believe that these missions should preclude further development of wind energy resources."

FAA spokesman Allen Kenitzer said they have received Wyden's letter and will respond in a timely manner. The Defense Department did not respond to a request for comment on Thursday.

A farmer in the process of permitting a 500-megawatt wind farm in Morrow and Umatilla counties said more than 70 percent of his 292 turbine sites have been identified by the FAA as potential hazards.

Farmer Jerry Rietmann, who is also the CEO of Wheatridge Wind Energy LLC, said he met with leaders in Washington, D.C., but they were unable to come up with a solution to the wind turbine problem.

Rietmann said he's still positive about his farm's future.

"It's hard for me to believe, at the end of the day, there isn't a reasonable solution to continue wind development in the region," he said. "If not, then I guess we made a good bet and lost."

Although the cost of replacing the fossil radar is unknown, Sherman County Judge Gary Thompson believes it is nothing in comparison to the billions of dollars in potential investment from wind companies searching for rural locations.

In Oregon's second-smallest county of just 1,765 people, Thompson says there are more than 1,000 megawatts of wind generation that bring in more $8 million in revenue.

"It's our biggest industry, currently," he said. "In county revenue, it surpasses farming substantially."

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