Tall Wind Turbines, Low Aircraft Don’t Mix

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If you haven’t been to a big wind power plant, you might be surprised at the immensity of the structures. The common 1.6-megawatt GE turbine is often on an 80-meter tower. Add in another 10 meters for a nacelle and affix 50-meter blades and you’ve got the tip of the turbine blades, at their apex, reaching 140 meters above ground. That’s an elevation of 460 feet.

Now you can see why the company DeTect is marketing a warning system for wind farms. The company’s Harrier Visual Warning System is a radar device that can detect low-flying aircraft up to 28 miles away and automatically activate obstruction lighting. While it’s unlikely you’d see a jumbo jet at 460 feet in the rural areas where most wind farms are found, it’s easy to imagine small planes down at that level.

wind farm visual warning system, DeTect

image via DeTect

DeTect has for years sold radar systems to wind developers that are used to do bird and bat surveys and mortality risk monitoring and assessments. But this new system is apparently the first that’s aimed at protecting wind turbines from aircraft (and aircraft from wind turbines). By using a system that’s activated only when planes are in the area, wind power plants can avoid creating unnecessary light pollution.

“The system provides continuous 360 degree surveillance of the airspace around a wind farm from the ground level to above aircraft flight altitudes, automatically activating obstruction lighting when aircraft are detected at a defined outer perimeter,” the company said. “The first Harrier VWS for the (United States) has been ordered by a major U.S. wind developer and will be installed and operating by year-end. This installation will be the first U.S. VWS system installation.”

Pete Danko is a writer and editor based in Portland, Oregon. His work has appeared in Breaking Energy, National Geographic's Energy Blog, The New York Times, San Francisco Chronicle and elsewhere.