After protracted litigation challenging plans to build 130 wind turbines, each 440 feet tall, in a 25 square mile area of Nantucket Sound, the D.C. Circuit last month denied petitions for review of the Federal Aviation Administration’s (“FAA”) determination that the turbines would pose no hazard to air navigation.

The petitioners, the Town of Barnstable, Massachusetts and a non-profit group of pilots and others, challenged the no hazard determinations based on the FAA’s failure to analyze the safety risks posed by the project and to perform an environmental review required by the National Environmental Policy Act (“NEPA”), 42 U.S.C. § 4332.  The D.C. Circuit had previously vacated a 2010 no hazard determination based on the FAA’s failure to consider potential adverse effects of the turbines on pilots operating under visual flight rules (“VFR”) and the potential that electromagnetic radiation from the turbines would interfere with radar systems in nearby air navigation facilities.

Noting the circumstances had changed after the FAA upgraded the radar and beacon at Otis Airfield, the circuit court’s January 22, 2014 opinion upheld the FAA’s 2012 no hazard determinations.  The court concluded that the FAA properly based its determinations on aeronautical studies conducted according to the FAA Handbook, Procedures for Handling Airspace Matters, FAA Order JO 7400.2J (February 9, 2012), of which Section 3 on identifying and evaluating aeronautical effect was applicable.  According to the court, the FAA could reasonably view its Handbook procedures implementing the Secretary of Transportation’s regulations as requiring a threshold finding before triggering the need for a more advanced “adverse effects” analysis under Handbook Section 6–3–3 which states that “[a] structure is considered to have an adverse effect if it first … is found to have physical or electromagnetic radiation effect on the operation of air navigation facilities.”
 


Continue Reading D.C. Circuit Upholds FAA’s “No Hazard” Determinations Regarding Electromagnetic Radiation from Nantucket Sound Wind Turbines

The proposed location of the first offshore wind farm, 130 wind turbines, each 440 feet tall, in a 25 square mile in Nantucket Sound, has been controversial from the start. The controversy has arisen partially because of Cape Cod’s high profile residents who would be visually impacted (such as the Kennedy family), and partly because of the proximity of the Town of Barnstable which is owner and operator of a municipal airport.

Now the courts have weighed into the controversy. In Town of Barnstable, Massachusetts v. Federal Aviation Administration, 2011 W.L. 5110119 (C.A.D.C.), decided on October 28, 2011, the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals held that: (1) the petitioners in two consolidated cases, Barnstable and Alliance to Protect Nantucket Sound, had standing to challenge the Federal Aviation Administration’s (“FAA”) determination that the wind farm would not pose a hazard to air navigation under FAA regulation 14 C.F.R. Part 77; and (2) FAA’s finding of “no hazard” to air navigation under that section was a result of the agency’s failure to properly apply its own regulations and the guidance in its own Order JO 7400.2G (April 10, 2008) (“Handbook”).
 


Continue Reading D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals Takes FAA to the Woodshed in Cape Cod Wind Farm Case

With the advent of wind energy development, much attention has been given in the aviation community to the impacts wind turbines located near airports might have on aviation safety. However, a not so readily apparent impact that has not been widely addressed is the impact of wind farms on an important segment of aviation, agricultural aviation. Because many of the country’s richest wind resources are located in agricultural areas, an increasing number of wind farms are being built on leased farmland property. Wind farm land leases provide farmland owners a continuing income source. However, in negotiating, preparing and entering into lease agreements, wind energy developers and landowners should consider other potential economic impacts wind farms might have on farming operations which extend beyond the boundaries of the leased property.
Continue Reading Wind Farms and Agricultural Aviation

In the midst of much debate as to whether a threat of “global warming” and “global climate change” actually exists and, if it does, further debate as to whether wind-generated energy would reduce carbon-dioxide emissions sufficiently to have a measurable impact on global temperatures, one thing is certain – wind farms are here, and more

With the current emphasis on “renewable energy” and sustainability, along with a healthy dose of federal funding, many companies have been developing plans for wind farms to help move this nation from the grip of over-reliance on petroleum products for its energy needs. While barriers to their construction are not new, with wind turbine companies fending off Endangered Species Act lawsuit (endangered bats running into blades) and other environmental issues, the FAA recently raised an additional issue: obstruction to aviation.

On Wednesday, January 6, 2010, the FAA found that 15 of Gamesa’s proposed 30 wind turbines for Shaeffer Mountain in Somerset County, Pennsylvania, exceed “obstruction standards and/or would have an adverse physical or electromagnetic interference effect” on the airspace above the ridge or nearby airports and flight routes. Two days later, on Friday, January 8, 2010, the FAA ruled that one of the two wind turbines proposed for the Dartmouth, Massachusetts owned land is a hazard to air traffic and must be lowered. 

The FAA may have learned its lesson, since back in April, 2008, it was told to go back to the drawing board with its “Does Not Exceed” determinations for a proposed wind farm above a proposed airport just south of Las Vegas in Ivanpah, Nevada. Clark County v. FAAThere, the court determined that the FAA’s findings flew in the data that the 400 ft towers would penetrate the FAA’s 40:1 slope and that 83 turbines would appear as a “fleet of jumbo jets” to the air traffic controllers.

It may be prudent, then, to review the process established by the FAA for determining if an object will be considered to be an “obstruction.”

Notification

Part 77 of the Federal Aviation Regulations (14 C.F.R., Part 77) establishes standards and notification requirements for objects affecting navigable airspace. This notification serves as the basis for:

  • Evaluating the effect of the construction or alteration on operating procedures
  • Determining the potential hazardous effect of the proposed construction on air navigation
  • Identifying mitigating measures to enhance safe air navigation
  • Charting of new objects.

Notification allows the FAA to identify potential aeronautical hazards in advance thus preventing or minimizing the adverse impacts to the safe and efficient use of navigable airspace.


Continue Reading Wind Farms Run Into Turbulence with the FAA