Military wants more rules for turbines near nuclear missiles

A wind turbine farm owned by PacifiCorp near Glenrock, Wyo. (AP Photo/Matt Young, File) (AP)

BISMARCK, N.D. (AP) — The military wants North Dakota and four other states with nuclear missile arsenals to consider introducing new rules aimed at preventing conflicts between wind turbines and helicopters that provide security at launch facilities.

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Department of Defense and Air Force officials outlined their concerns in a letter before meeting Tuesday with North Dakota lawmakers and regulatory officials.

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"Wind turbine development near launch facilities and missile alert facilities compromise the use of military helicopters to provide overhead security in sensitive locations," the letter said.

The Defense Department last month asked the North Dakota Public Service Commission to consider new rules, including increasing the distance tenfold to more than 2 miles (3.2 kilometers) between a wind turbine and missile launch facility. The military also wants special lighting added to wind towers that is compatible with night-vision goggles worn by the helicopter pilots who patrol the 8,500-square-mile (22,000-square-kilometer) missile field in northern North Dakota.

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The commission, which approves siting permits for wind farms, has not acted on the requests. The Associated Press sought to attend Tuesday's meeting between the military and state lawmakers but was barred after military officials protested.

The military said it's also "an issue of concern" in Montana, Wyoming, Colorado and Nebraska.

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Mark Mahoney, the regional environmental coordinator for the Defense Department, told the AP after the meeting that the military would ask other states to also consider the changes proposed in North Dakota.

"We want consistency," he said.

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Tom Vinson, vice president of regulatory affairs for the American Wind Energy Association, said wind developers already work with the Defense Department to mitigate any potential risks from wind farms.

"We in the wind industry would prefer not to see state legislation," Vinson said. "The federal review process is already robust."

Vinson said "one-size-fits-all" state rules would be overly restrictive and could halt projects.

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"There may be ways to mitigate concerns that would allow a project to move forward," he said.

Vinson said 35% of the nation's wind farms operate within 50 miles (80 kilometers) of a military facility, without harming national security or altering military missions.

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The Minot Air Force Base in North Dakota is the only U.S. base capable of nuclear strikes by both plane and missile. Minot has one of the nation's two B-52 bomber bases and oversees 150 of the Air Force's 450 Minuteman 3 nuclear missiles.

North Dakota ranks 10th among states in wind power output, though it is rated at the top for wind power potential. The state had only a handful of wind turbines at the turn of the century, a number that has grown to more than 1,700 at present, with many located at or near the state's nuclear missile field.