Kansas and Colorado will now regulate flashing turbine lights in wind farms after residents complained of light pollution.
The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) provides standards for wind turbine lighting to ensure it is visible to pilots. Under the agency’s rules, this includes red flashing lights on top of each turbine, flashing 30 times per minute.
But residents of rural areas have complained of these lights as an eyesore and have made them feel like they live on an airport runway. They alleged that these turbine lights have ruined their view of the night sky and disrupted the bucolic stillness that defined their counties. (Related: Can you see stars? Light pollution to blame for hiding wonders in the night sky, warn experts.)
Thankfully, the chief executives of the Sunflower State and the Centennial State paid attention to residents’ complaints about light pollution – but only after years of “soft” policies on the matter.
Proposals signed by Kansas Gov. Laura Kelly and by Colorado Gov. Jared Polis mandate that the appearance of blinking red lights be reduced, and that they only be turned on when a low-flying aircraft is approaching.
North Dakota approved similar legislation in 2017. Lawmakers at the Washington State Legislature also passed a bill requiring light-mitigating technology on wind farms. However, the bill still awaits the signature of Gov. Jay Inslee.
Officials with Terma and DeTect Inc., the biggest vendors of aircraft-detection lighting systems, said they have seen demand for their technology increase significantly since 2018 when counties and states began to require its use. Both firms use radars to activate red lights if a low-flying aircraft comes within three and a half miles.
DeTect Senior Vice President Jesse Lewis said his company has installed or is about to install 100 radars, with one to three used for a typical wind farm depending on its size and the terrain.
Former Colorado State Sen. Jerry Sonnenberg pointed out that even though the technology isn’t cost-prohibitive for most companies, they have not been required to use it. He said: “When they’re not forced to spend that money, why would they?”
Sonnenberg, now a county commissioner, compared the red lights to those on an ambulance and said the flashing is “rather annoying.”
“Clean” wind turbines causing light pollution
According to the Wall Street Journal (WSJ), wind energy projects in the U.S. – largely concentrated in a high-wind-speed corridor stretching from North Dakota to West Texas – have been slow to adopt the mitigation solutions.
“None of the more than 40 wind farms in Kansas, one of the top states for wind-energy producing, use systems that light up only when aircraft are near. Two projects under construction in Kansas have been approved to use the light-minimizing technology,” wrote WSJ‘s Shannon Najmabadi.
Kimberly Svaty, public policy director of the Kansas Power Alliance (KPA), remarked: “Light-mitigation technology is definitely something that can be done to help improve the relationship with the community.” KPA represents the interests of wind, solar, battery-storage and advanced-power industries.
The WSJ also published testimonies from several residents affected by light pollution from wind farms.
“Imagine: Red blinking stoplights every night, all night long – and not in sync,” Marshall County, Kansas resident Gayla Randel told lawmakers. The lights from more than 130 turbines are visible from her home.
Nakila Blessing and her husband built a house on his family’s farm in Schuyler County, Missouri in 2018. After two years, the 175-turbine High Prairie wind farm project was constructed near the place – resulting in 500-foot-tall turbines cluttering their landscape and light polluting the night sky.
“They like to say: ‘You’ll get used to it,’” Blessing said of the turbines that surround her home on three sides. “You don’t get used to it.”
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Watch this clip of Greta Thunberg and dozens of other activists protesting against the construction of wind farms on land traditionally used by the indigenous Sami people.
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