THE Ministry of Defence – one of the key objectors to wind farms – has changed its stance, in a move that experts say will remove a major barrier to the development of green energy.
The MoD said it had made "significant advances" in resolving problems over the impact of wind farms and formed a "memorandum of understanding" with the energy industry.
The MoD and other aviation groups have in the past lodged objections to vast numbers of wind farms, because of fears over turbines interfering with radar used to detect potential enemy aircraft or monitor air traffic.
However, a letter seen by The Scotsman reveals that significant progress has been made towards resolving the problems.
The MoD explained the change of position in the letter to the Scottish Government, which also removes its objections to the controversial Fallago Rig wind farm in the Borders.
The objection was lodged during a public inquiry last year, due to concerns about the impact of the proposed turbines on the Brizlee Wood radar.
In the letter, Julian Chafer, principal safeguarding officer at the MoD, said: "Since the public inquiry, significant advances have been made in relation to the mitigation of the impacts of wind farms on air defence radar, and the development of technical solutions to reduce the effects of wind turbines."
He added: "The MoD has now entered into a memorandum of understanding with the wind-farm industry and the Department for Energy and Climate Change.
"Through these advances, MoD air defence specialists have established a process whereby they can work with industry, when possible, to allow wind turbines developments to proceed."
A condition of withdrawing the objection to the 48-turbine Fallago Rig wind farm in the Lammermuir Hills was that a radar mitigation scheme was put in place, which would include a payment by the developer to the MoD.
Turbines can interfere with security radar used to detect possible enemy aircraft, air traffic radar used by commercial airlines and those used for Met Office forecasts. They can also cause problems for low-flying planes.
Calculations by the British Wind Energy Association (BWEA) last year showed that, of 9 gigawatts of planned wind farms, 4.5GW were subject to objections from the MoD or other aviation bodies – equivalent to three times the amount of installed wind power in Scotland.
Charles Anglin, director of communications for the BWEA, said: "There has been a sea change in the MoD's attitude. This has been extremely welcome. That sea change is now working its way through the system, and we are seeing some positive results on the ground."
He said previously the MoD's "default option" had been to object to applications.
Jenny Hogan, senior wind energy officer at Scottish Renewables, said: "Concerns from the aviation sector have been one of the most significant issues for Scotland's wind industry.
"The dialogue between our industry, government and aviation stakeholders is starting to show real signs of progress that will hopefully unleash the potential of wind power, particularly in the Central Belt and south of Scotland, where radar issues have been a major barrier."
A spokeswoman for the MoD said: "Our understanding of how turbines can affect our radar systems is advancing and evolving.
"We are working towards new ways to resolve problems and deadlock when we have wind-farms applications that might affect the defence of the UK.
"We are fully committed to sustainable energy and wind-farm developments, but defence of the UK is a very serious business."
LOCALS STILL FIGHT AGAINST FALLAGO RIG PLANS
CAMPAIGNERS are determined to continue fighting the Fallago Rig wind farm despite the seal of approval from the Ministry of Defence.
Locals who are opposed to the plans fear that the Scottish Government will approve the proposal now the MoD has lifted its objection.
They argue too many wind farms have already been built in the Lammermuir Hills in the Borders.
East Lothian Council and Scottish Borders Council both opposed the 48-turbine Fallago Rig application.
Dave Lochhead, chairman of the Cranshaws, Ellemford and Longformacus Community Council, said they were taking legal advice over concerns the Scottish Government had been talking to the MoD behind closed doors rather than in public at last year's inquiry.
They will be calling for a second public inquiry to consider the MoD's new evidence, he said.
However, a spokesman for the Scottish Government said the rules had been followed.
"In line with rules covering public inquiries, we have offered parties who attended the inquiry three weeks to provide any further comments on this new information.
"Ministers will then further consider the application."
A spokesman for the applicant, North British Windpower, said the decision by the MoD to withdraw its objection was a "real help". "The only problem they had was this MoD issue so hopefully it will get consent."