Environmentalists, military create database to help green energy developers

Military bases, wind farms and solar power plants can co-exist. But not necessarily right next to each other.

Wind turbines interfere with radar. The glare from hundreds of solar reflectors, bunched together at a desert power plant, can distract pilots.

So the Natural Resources Defense Council, an environmental group, and the U.S. Department of Defense have created an interactive database to help renewable power developers find construction sites that won’t incur the Pentagon’s ire.

Plug any location into the Renewable Energy and Defense Database (READ), and a brightly colored map will show the nearest military base, radar installation, missile silo and flight path. The database can be viewed at www.nrdc.org/energy/readgdb.asp.

The system offers a remarkable level of detail, building its maps from data provided by the Defense Department and other sources. For example, different types of radar installations have different ranges. The database distinguishes among those different types. It also shows whether any endangered or threatened wildlife species live on the proposed project site.

“You get a sense of what conflicts could be down the road,” said Matthew McKinzie, a senior scientist at the Natural Resources Defense Council who developed the system. “Can I modify my project to avoid a flight route? You can see if you’re in a hot spot, where your project is in line-of-sight with three or four radars at once.”

Many large, renewable energy projects are being built not far from military bases. While most of those projects have posed no problems for the Defense Department, a few have. In Solano County, for example, wind farms near Travis Air Force Base required the military to work out a system for using other nearby radar installations to see past the interference from the turbines.

The new database could help prevent such conflicts, by guiding developers away from problematic sites.

“NRDC has created a one-stop shop for developers to prescreen potential project locations for environmental impacts as well as conflicts with military testing, training, and homeland defense operations,” said David Belote, who runs a Defense Department “clearinghouse” recently created to work with developers.

The system will be free to developers, but they must first sign a licensing agreement with the Natural Resources Defense Council.