BILL ANALYSIS                                                                                                                                                                                                    






           SENATE TRANSPORTATION & HOUSING COMMITTEE       BILL NO: AB 511
          SENATOR MARK DESAULNIER, CHAIRMAN              AUTHOR:  YAMADA
                                                         VERSION: 4/13/11
          Analysis by:  Michelle Leinfelder                       
          FISCAL:YES
          Hearing date:  June 21, 2011



          SUBJECT:

          Aeronautics: meteorological towers

          DESCRIPTION:

          This bill requires a meteorological tower that is below 200 feet 
          in height and above 50 feet in height to be marked according to 
          specifications that are used by the Federal Aviation 
          Administration for towers exceeding 200 feet.

          ANALYSIS:

          Existing state law establishes the State Aeronautics Act (Act) 
          and the California Division of Aeronautics under the California 
          Department of Transportation.  The purpose of the Act is to 
          further and protect the public interest in aeronautics and 
          aeronautical progress in such ways as reporting accidents, 
          providing pilots safety and educational materials, establishing 
          airports, and regulating obstructions around airports.  Within 
          the Act, the state recognizes the authority of the federal 
          government to regulate the operation of aircraft and to control 
          the use of the airways.  A violation of the Act is a 
          misdemeanor, punishable by a fine of not more than one thousand 
          dollars, or by imprisonment of not more than six months, or 
          both.

          Existing federal law establishes the Federal Aviation 
          Administration (FAA) under the United States Department of 
          Transportation to make and amend general or special rules, 
          regulations, procedures, and minimum standards consistent with 
          federal legislation governing aeronautics.  Under the Code of 
          Federal Regulations, a sponsor proposing any type of 
          construction or alteration of a structure that may affect the 
          National Airspace System is required to notify the FAA prior to 
          construction of the structure.  The FAA maintains an Advisory 
          Circular with guidelines for marking structures that exceed 200 




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          feet above ground level.  Marking may include the use of 
          aviation orange and white painting, markers, and lighting.

           This bill:  
          
          1)Defines a meteorological instrument as a device used to 
          measure and record wind speed, and     it defines a 
          meteorological tower (MT) as a structure, including all guy 
          wires and accessory facilities, on which a meteorological 
          instrument is mounted to document whether a site has sufficient 
          wind to operate a wind turbine generator.

          2)Subjects MTs that are between 50 and 200 feet in height to 
          have a) the full length of the         tower painted in seven 
          equal, alternating bands of aviation orange and white, with 
          orange at  the top and bottom; b) two evenly-spaced marker balls 
          on the outside guy wires; c) the area  at which a guy wire is 
          anchored contrasting in appearance to the surrounding 
          vegetation, and if the land is grazed, fencing around the anchor 
          point that is at least four feet from the anchor point; d) one 
          or more seven-foot safety sleeves extending from the anchor 
          point up each guy wire; and e) a red flashing obstruction light 
          affixed to the highest point.

          COMMENTS:

          1. Purpose  .  According to the author, the bill will protect 
          pilots flying at low levels by requiring marking procedures for 
          meteorological towers (MTs) below 200 feet that are consistent 
          with      FAA regulations for towers exceeding 200 feet.  When 
          scouting new sites for new windmills and wind farms, renewable 
          energy developers erect MTs to measure wind currents in 
          different areas and look for ideal conditions for wind power 
          generation.  These towers are usually made of galvanized steel, 
          slightly less than 200 feet in height, and supported by several 
          guy wires anchoring different points of the tower to the ground. 
           Developers    discretely and quickly assemble these structures, 
          sometimes overnight, to minimize competitor discovery of 
          potential wind farm locations.

            Because some developers construct these towers at heights just 
          below 200 feet, they avoid requirements by the FAA to paint the 
          towers, mark their attached structures, and affix warning lights 
          to alert pilots to their presence.  This is problematic because 
          the grey color of   the galvanized steel towers causes them to 
          blend in with the sky making them extremely difficult to see at 




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          reasonable distances.  In addition, the guy wires supporting 
          these structures    are nearly invisible unless a pilot has 
          already reached a dangerously close distance.  These visibility 
          issues have caused problems for pilots of low flying aircraft 
          used for agriculture,    emergency medical and firefighting 
          response, mosquito abatement, military operations, among others. 
           

            On January 10, 2011, agricultural pilot, Stephen Allen, struck 
          an unmarked 198 foot tall MT while flying over Webb Tract in 
          Contra Costa County.  Had the tower exceeded 200 feet, the tower 
          would have been reported to and approved by the FAA.  Witnesses 
          stated that Mr. Allen did not attempt to avoid the tower, 
          indicating that he likely did not see the tower before striking 
          it.

          2.  This bill provides for added safety  .  For the years 2000-2011, 
          the National Agricultural              Aviation Association 
          reports nine tower collisions, resulting in nine fatalities.  
          Three of the   collisions were with guy-wired towers under 200 
          feet, with the most recent being the   aforementioned collision 
          with a MT tower in Contra Costa County.  In an effort to 
          mitigate safety concerns, South Dakota and Wyoming have already 
          passed legislation requiring the       marking of MTs in this 
          height range.

            Currently, wind energy only accounts for approximately two 
          percent of the country's energy        production.  The American 
          Wind Energy Association is seeking a national standard of 25 
          percent renewable energy by the year 2025, and the California 
          Renewable Portfolio Standard           requires that 33 percent 
          of the state's electricity come from renewable energy resources 
          by   the year 2020.  Thus, the number of MTs erected to support 
          the growth of the wind energy          industry will likely 
          increase, contributing to greater risk to low-level aviation 
          operators, particularly if the towers are unmarked.

            Opponents to the bill question why the bill is limited to MTs 
          between 50 and 200 feet and            does not apply to other 
          towers in this height range.  While utility and communication 
          towers     may also be in this height range, these types of 
          towers are generally free-standing towers that are wider, and 
          therefore easier to see, and do not require guy wire support. 

          3.  Requirements are consistent with FAA requirements  .  The 
          marking requirements outlined in       this bill comply with the 




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          FAA's Advisory Circular for obstruction marking and lighting of 
          towers exceeding 200 feet.  The FAA is currently reviewing this 
          Advisory Circular to include           guidance for the 
          voluntary marking of MTs that are less than 200 feet.  The FAA 
          is                                                          
          recommending that these towers be painted in accordance to the 
          marking criteria contained in          the Advisory Circular; 
          and therefore, this bill would be compliant with the voluntary 
          marking    guidelines pending before the FAA.  Opponents to the 
          bill have expressed difficulty in      implementing certain 
          elements of the marking requirements, but companies such as 
          EcoEnergy have already shown that implementation of these 
          markings is possible.

          4.  Enforcement  .  While the pending FAA guidelines for marking MTs 
          are voluntary, this bill               effectively makes a 
          failure to mark MTs a misdemeanor.  Local law enforcement would 
          be   responsible for enforcing this law.  In addition, the 
          threat of liability will encourage tower owners to comply.    

          Assembly Votes:
               Floor:    78-0
               Appr:     16-0
               BP&CP:      9-0

          POSITIONS:  (Communicated to the Committee before noon on 
          Wednesday,                                             June 15, 
          2011)

               SUPPORT:  California Agricultural Aircraft Association
                         California Agricultural Commissioners and Sealers 
          Association
                         Kings County Board of Supervisors
                         Wes Omoto, friend of Stephen Allen
          
               OPPOSED:  California Wind Energy Association
                         First Wind
                         Iberdrola
                         Terra-Gen Power