Air traffic services company NATS has signed a pioneering deal with two wind turbine developers that could unlock up to 2.2GW of potential new wind energy across the UK.
The deal, signed between NATS, SSE and Vattenfall, secures the funding to modify two Raytheon-manufactured radar sites – Lowther Hill and Great Dun Fell – to provide a mitigation service in northern England 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 some two per cent 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 often has to object 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, NATS Chief Executive, 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 at 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 for 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 a billion pounds of new investment creating hundreds of jobs and significantly boosting UK renewable energy production. We are very pleased to be part of such an exciting initiative which has brought the aviation and energy industry together to successfully tackle a UK wide problem and I would like to thank everyone for their commitment to delivering this safe and cost effective solution."
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. Briefings will be held next month to explain to the wider industry the details of how the mitigation tool can be applied.