BISMARCK, N.D. • The military wants North Dakota and four other states with nuclear missile arsenals, including Colorado, to consider introducing rules aimed at preventing conflicts between wind turbines and helicopters that provide security at launch facilities.
Department of Defense and Air Force officials outlined their concerns in a letter before meeting this week with North Dakota lawmakers and regulatory officials.
“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 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 missile field in northern North Dakota.
The commission, which approves siting permits for wind farms, has not acted on the requests. The AP 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.
Mark Mahoney, the regional environmental coordinator for the Defense Department, said after the meeting that the military would ask other states to also consider the changes proposed in North Dakota. “We want consistency,” he said.
Tom Vinson, vice president of regulatory affairs for the American Wind Energy Association, said wind developers already work with the Defense Department to mitigate 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.
“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 of a military facility, without harming national security or altering military missions. 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.
Colorado’s missiles are tied to the Minuteman field based at F.E. Warren Air Force Base in Cheyenne and are primarily on the plains in the northeastern corner of the state. The exact location of the missiles is classified. The missile sites are patrolled with UH-1N helicopters, a modern cousin to the Huey helicopters made famous in Vietnam. The choppers carry security forces crew who can quickly respond to threats at missile sites.
A control center in Colorado Springs at North American Aerospace Defense Command provides warning of enemy attacks, an alarm that could prompt the launch of America’s missiles.
Colorado’s eastern plains have seen several wind energy developments in recent years. The Air Force’s concerns about the location of those wind farms comes as the service develops a new fleet of intercontinental ballistic missiles to replace the Minuteman, which has been the nation’s primary land-based missile since the 1970s.
The Air Force is also fielding a new fleet of helicopters to patrol its missile sites. The MH-139 is larger than the Huey, carrying as many as 15 troops in addition to its crew.