Air traffic services company NATS has signed a pioneering radar deal with two wind turbine developers for two sites in Scotland and England that could unlock up to 2.2GW of potential new wind energy across the UK.
The deal, signed between NATS, Perth-based Scottish & Southern Energy (SSE) and the Swedish state utility Vattenfall, secures the funding to modify two Raytheon-manufactured radar sites – Lowther Hill and Great Dun Fell – to provide a mitigation service in Cumbria and southern Scotland to the interference caused by wind turbines.
Under planning rules, NATS must be consulted on all wind turbine applications in the UK. In 2% of cases, the proposed turbines would cause interference to the radar signals air traffic controllers use to direct aircraft. The turbine blades can appear as ‘clutter’ on radar screens and be mistaken for aircraft.
In these cases NATS objects to the development on the grounds of aviation safety, resulting in the application being turned down by the planning authority.
The agreement signed between NATS and the developers now means that a technical modification, developed in a three-year programme called Project RM, can be made to the radar. This will provide a mitigation service in the vast majority of cases where there is interference, for the length of the planning consent.
Funding has so far been secured for two radar sites with the option to roll the modification out to others and to investigate further improvements to the mitigation as developer demand requires. Any roll-out of the modification to other radar sites will be delivered on a fair and equitable basis according to requirement.
Richard Deakin, Chief Executive, NATS, said: “This is a landmark agreement that heralds a significant technical advance in mitigating the radar interference from wind turbines; it unlocks significant potential for wind-based power generation and indeed for the UK in meeting its carbon reduction targets.
“We’ve been committed to working across the industry to find a way of unlocking this new power while ensuring aviation safety. This is a fantastic result.”
Colin Nicol, Director of Onshore Renewables, SSE, said: ”We are delighted to have secured this agreement with NATS and with another developer. Our investment helps ensure on-going aviation safety and paves the way for unlocking not just some of our own wind development projects but potentially those of the rest of the industry as well.
“This is truly a positive collaboration between two sectors working together in partnership through innovation.”
Piers Guy, Head of Development, Vattenfall UK, said: “This investment in UK Infrastructure will benefit the whole industry by unlocking the potential of gigawatts of otherwise stalled wind power capacity.
“This new capacity would generate well over £1 billion pounds of new investment, creating hundreds of jobs and significantly boosting UK renewable energy production.”
Project RM is the result of three years’ work between NATS, Aviation Investment Fund Company Limited (AIFCL) Developers, DECC, Crown Estate, Scottish Government and radar manufacturer Raytheon.
Technical Briefings will be held next month to explain to the wider industry the details of how the mitigation tool can be applied.
The modification could be used at other radar stations, which could eventually unlock up to 2.2 gigawatts of potential new wind energy in the years ahead – enough to generate clean electricity for more than 1.25 million British homes.
Maria McCaffery, Chief Executive of the UK’s renewables industry trade body, added: “This is another significant step forward for the UK’s wind energy industry, as it creates fresh opportunities to install new capacity in areas of the country which enjoy excellent wind resources.
“It also marks what we hope is the start of a wider process to introduce modifications at other radar stations throughout the UK to unlock even greater capacity.”