SAN FRANCISCO - June 28 - The Sierra Club today filed suit against Donald Rumsfeld and the U.S. Department of Defense for creating a virtual moratorium on the construction of new wind power plants. Rumsfeld and DOD have failed to complete a congressionally mandated study of windmills' impact on radar. In the meantime, DOD, Department of Homeland Security and the Federal Aviation Administration have halted wind farm construction "within radar line of sight" of any military radar--which has effectively stopped construction across the U.S.
"While the Defense Department drags its feet studying if wind farms are a threat to national security, Americans are missing out on cleaner, cheaper energy," said Kristin Henry, staff attorney for Sierra Club. "If the military can have windmills and effective radar at Guantanamo, why can't we have both in the Midwest?"
The suit, filed in U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California, claims that the Department of Defense has violated the Administrative Procedure Act and will seek to "compel agency action unlawfully withheld or unreasonably delayed." 5 U.S.C. § 706(1).
The move by the Bush administration to link wind power to national security threats is especially ironic given that it took a recent decision of the Ninth Circuit Court to get the Nuclear Regulatory Commission to consider the potential impacts from a terrorist attack on nuclear facilities when conducting environmental reviews.
"The same administration that didn't want to consider terrorism when building nuclear plants is saying that windmills may be a threat to national security," said Henry.
The National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2006 contained a last-minute amendment, inserted by Senator John Warner of Virginia, requiring Donald Rumsfeld and DOD to complete a study on the effect of windmills on military readiness and the operation of military radar installations by May 8, 2006.
In order to operate and construct a windmill in the U.S., an energy developer must obtain a notice from the FAA stating that the installation is not a hazard to air navigation. The Federal Aviation Administration is interpreting DOD's "Interim Windmill Policy" to mean that it cannot approve any wind projects "within radar line of sight." Instead, the agency has been issuing "Notices of Presumptive Hazard," which decline to provide the required notice until more information is obtained regarding possible interference with military radar installations. Since much of the nation and almost all of the Midwest is "within radar line of sight," this policy has a sweeping effect and has essentially created a de facto moratorium on new wind power projects.
Federal officials have declined to reveal how many wind projects have been blocked from construction, but, according to media reports, at least 15 wind farm proposals in the Midwest have been shut down so far. The list of stalled projects includes one outside Bloomington, Illinois, which would have been the nation's largest source of wind energy, generating enough electricity to power 120,000 homes in the Chicago area. Coal and natural gas will likely replace the lost wind generation, resulting in higher energy costs and increased soot, smog and global warming pollution.
"Paralyzing wind energy development could not have come at a worse time," said David Bookbinder, senior attorney for Sierra Club. "The Department of Defense has provided no indication of when it intends to complete the required study, even though the deadline has already passed. Meanwhile the window for claiming tax credits on wind projects is closing next year.
On June 2, 2006, Senators Russ Feingold, Dick Durbin, Herb Kohl, Kent Conrad, Byron Dorgan, and Barack Obama wrote a letter to the Department of Defense and the Federal Aviation Administration requesting that they stop unnecessarily obstructing the construction of clean, renewable energy sources.
If the moratorium persists through the summer, it may not be possible to complete wind projects in time for their developers to claim applicable federal tax credits, which were extended last August through the end of 2007. The direct and indirect economic damage that will result from suspension of wind farm construction could easily reach tens of millions of dollars.
Wind energy is the fastest-growing source of power on the planet. With our tremendous wind resources, the United States can become a world leader in wind energy. Already, wind turbines in this country produce enough electricity to meet the needs of more than 1 million households. A single modern wind turbine can produce enough power to meet the annual electricity needs of 500 average homes.