FAA may approve radar lighting systems, but won’t require Pattern to install
By Miriam Raftery
March 30, 2014 (Ocotillo) – State Senator Ben Hueso has taken heed of his constituents’ complaints about flashing red lights on wind turbines shining into people’s homes at night. In a February 10, 2014 letter to the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA), Hueso wrote that flashing red lights on over 100 turbines, each taller than a 40 story building, are harmful to the health of Ocotillo residents.
“As most of them live within two miles of these turbines, the steady light transmitted from these structures is causing them to suffer from migraines, vertigo and loss of sleep,” Hueso wrote. He added that his staff has looked into the issue and found studies indicated that “residents living in such c lose proximity to turbines often suffer from illnesses including chronic sleep deprivation, hypertension and heart attack. Ocotillo is made up largely of senior citizens, a group which has been found to be exceptionally sensitive to the effects of the turbines.”
Hueso asked the FAA to allow use of radar technology and Audio Visual Warning Systems that would allow lights on wind turbines to be kept off at night, activated by radar to come on only when an airplane is approaching. This system has already been proven effective in the National Airspace System “and can be helpful in this case too,” Hueso wrote, adding that solving lighting problems could reduce opposition to wind projects elsewhere.
While the Senator stressed that he believes wind and solar installations are “essential” to reducing our carbon footprint as renewable resources, he added, “The health and well-being of the residents of Ocotillo is important to me. Studies of the illnesses caused by excessive exposure to light from the turbines cannot be ignored. I respectfully urge you to look into this matter more closely and to work with us to improve the quality of life of the community.”
Elizabeth Ray, vice president of mission support services at the FAA, responded to Hueso in a March 26, 2014 letter. She clarified that the FAA policy is to require nighttime lighting on the perimeter of a wind farm and on any wind turbines that are more than a half mile apart during night time hours.
So why did the Bureau of Land Management approve the Ocotillo project with flashing red lights on every turbine?
Ray revealed that the FAA recently completed a study of radar activated lighting on a wind farm in Talbot, Ontario. “We are currently completing technical standards for application of these types of systems for use throughout the national airspace system,” she wrote, adding that the FAA will be changing its policy to allow radar activated lighting after those technical standards are completed, though she gave no deadline for that to occur.
But those changes will come too late for beleaguered Ocotillo residents, it appears, unless the federal government will step in to mandate and perhaps fund the changeover. Ray stated, “The FAA cannot require wind turbine owners to change lighting systems to radar activated lighting systems.” Morever, she said, “We require that the lighting system used meet FAA specifications and cannot mandate a radar activated component over standard lighting.”
Ocotillo residents aren't the only ones raising concerns. Readers of ECM have complained that the flashing red light beams are a distraction for drivers, particularly on Interstate 8. Biologists have also raised concerns over light beams attracting owls and bats into the path of whirling turbine blades.
Pattern Energy had previously led residents in Ocotillo to believe that installation of the radar system was likely to occur and that the company supported the concept. ““When we say something, we’re gonna do it..If anyone is reporting out there,
there is a new technology that’s already been approved in Canada,” a Pattern representative stated in a meeting recorded on video. He added, “It’s a technology that allows lights to stay off and only comes on when radar comes into range.”
“If we get the FAA approval this summer we will apply it and it is something that would reduce the light emissions significantly.” https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=C5zgBX74T6Q
Ocotillo resident Jim Pelley has turbines on three sides of his home, which he bought because he appreciate the desert views. “Now I have to close my whole house up tight to avoid the noise and bright red flashing light shining in my face at my dinner table,” he said, as ECM reported back in February 2013, shortly after the wind project was completed. Living in the middle of this project has been living hell since day one and I feel that all of the peple who should be looking out for the health, safety and well being of the residents/public are holding a blind eye to this project.”
Park Ewing, another Ocotillo resident, agreed. “Pattern Energy salesman and marketing director John Calloway promised that a radar controlled turbine light FAA required warning system would be installed at the Ocotillo Wind Energy Facility,” Ewing wrote on February 3, 2013 in a letter to the Bureau of Land Management.”
Ewing said disruption from the red, flashing lights has caused “disruption to our lives” that is ‘beyond believable.”
He wants the project torn down, but until or unless that occurs, Ewing believes Pattern Energy should be forced to install the radar activated lighting system. “We don’t care what the cost is,” he concluded.
Once the technology is approved, if Pattern is not willing to retrofit its already severely underperforming project which is producing only about half the energy levels promised, will the federal government approve funds for retrofitting to add the radar-activated lighting system and provide relief to weary Ocotillo residents?
That question, like so many involving this troubled energy project, remains to be answered.