MidAmerican Tests New Lighting System at Three Iowa Wind Farms

December 29, 2023 by Dan McCue
MidAmerican Tests New Lighting System at Three Iowa Wind Farms
Radar technology that will control nighttime lighting of wind farms in Iowa. (Radar technology that will control nighttime lighting of wind farms in Iowa. (MidAmerican Energy photo)

DES MOINES, Iowa — MidAmerican Energy has begun testing on a new radar-activated aircraft detection lighting system that the company hopes will dramatically reduce the visual impact of flashing lights on turbines during the overnight hours.

If the system works as envisioned, the technology will eliminate the flashing lights on wind turbines by more than 95%.

“We completed installation of the system this fall and it’s now operational,” MidAmerican Energy spokesman Geoff Greenwood said in an email to The Well News.

“The radar antenna that’s part of the system is located near Adair, Iowa, and it feeds to a controller that is connected to three local wind farms,” he said.

In essence, the antenna will operate as an on-off switch, turning off flashing warning lights on the turbines when no aircraft are in the area, and turning them on when an aircraft approaches and passes through a designated area around the wind farms.

“While the system keeps the lights off most of the time, it’s also designed to always keep wind farms safe for pilots by activating the lights when an aircraft is near,” said Adam Jablonski, vice president of project development. 

The Federal Aviation Administration requires wind farms to operate synchronized red flashing lights to warn pilots. 

Recently, the agency approved this technology as an option, and when approved on a case-by-case basis, it will keep wind turbine lights off unless the system detects an aircraft within three nautical miles of the wind farms. 

Commercial aircraft flying at a normal cruising altitude should not activate the lights.

If the ADLS experiences a malfunction, wind turbine warning lights will begin to flash regardless of whether there’s an aircraft in the area.

The system will also reduce energy consumption at the three wind farms and likely extend the operating life of the warning lights.

“Over the course of the one-year pilot project, we’ll collect a range of performance data, including how it operates in challenging weather conditions,” Greenwood said.

“If it meets performance and feasibility expectations, we will consider installing the technology at additional MidAmerican wind farms,” he added.

And that would be no small thing.

MidAmerican operates more than 3,400 wind turbines at 37 wind projects in 32 counties in Iowa, with over 7,300 MW of wind generating capacity. 

Since 2004, MidAmerican has invested $14 billion in Iowa wind projects, including new projects and repowering investments. 

In 2022, MidAmerican generated as much renewable energy as its Iowa customers used during the year, the first time it reached the 100% renewable energy milestone.

Dan can be reached at [email protected] and @DanMcCue

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