FAA regulations require aircraft warning lights installed on all towers taller than 200 feet. Turbines on wind energy farms generally stand between 300 to 400 feet high. There could be more than 200 generators on stretches of land reaching for miles. Landowners are concerned that illuminating every windmill in a farm could add annoying light pollution to remote areas.
Engineers visited eleven sites to come up with recommendations to enhance aviation safety while satisfying the concerns of neighbors. The Blue Canyon Wind Farm near Lawton, Oklahoma, consists of 43 turbines topped with only 17 lights. Visual guidance experts installed lights on windmills at each end of a row, then spaced lights on towers a half-mile apart. They have determined that configuration should be sufficient to indicate the farm to pilots, without creating light pollution for surrounding communities.
The U.S. Department of Energy reports, as of March 2004, wind power plants are operating in 32 states. Government experts hope wind will provide six percent of the nation’s electricity by the year 2020. But standards must be established before a campaign to switch to alternative energy moves on.
But the modern versions’ threat to air traffic must be addressed before America realizes the “impossible dream” of alternative energy sources, as well as assist in lighting the way for the rest of the world. European nations are among those currently ing the FAA’s efforts on the wind farm project. The final report, expected in 2005, will likely result in an Advisory Circular determining the future of wind farm lighting in the U.S.
Contact Project Lead Jim Patterson, Airport R&D