ST. LUCIE COUNTY — Plans for wind towers and possibly wind turbines in St. Lucie County may still be in the works for Florida Power and Light Co., despite its affiliate NextEra Energy Resources saying wind farms in Florida are not smart nor cost effective.
Four years ago, FPL pushed for a multimillion-dollar wind farm on Hutchinson Island, but the concept caused an uproar from residents who said the wind wasn’t sufficient and turbines would negatively impact the environment and scenery. So in 2011, FPL asked the St. Lucie County Commission to allow wind towers be built in the western part of the county, and commissioners unanimously obliged.
Mark Satterlee, county planning and development services director, said the idea behind the wind towers, which have yet to be built, was to see if wind turbines could be placed out west.
“They wanted an opportunity to assess if there was sufficient wind speeds in the western parts of land and (whether to put) wind turbines there, last I heard of it,” Satterlee said.
Satterlee said the Hutchinson Island project was put on hold while FPL assessed the wind speeds out west. He said while the large wind turbines on the beach were not supported by the public or county commissioners, no one seemed to have a problem with the more inconspicuous 200-foot wind towers.
However, last week Mike O’Sullivan, senior vice president of development for NextEra Energy Resources, told the Palm Beach Post wind farms are not cost-effective in Florida, despite FPL’s push for wind turbines.
“There are smart places to put wind turbines and less-smart places to put wind turbines,” O’Sullivan said. “Florida is a less-smart place due to the lack of wind resources. As windy as we locals think it is here, it is not.”
O’Sullivan said wind farms don’t make economic sense in Florida because the wind is too weak, and it’s cheaper to produce electricity from natural gas, nuclear power and coal.
FPL officials said despite O’Sullivan’s comments they still plan to pursue the potential for wind power in St. Lucie County.
“The status of the St. Lucie wind project remains the same,” FPL spokeswoman Jackie Anderson said in an email. “We have received permission to evaluate the wind potential in the western part of St. Lucie County and will decide how to proceed once the status of federal and state renewable policy is more clear.”
FPL or NextEra energy would not say if new science suggests wind technology in Florida is not feasible.
NextEra Energy Resources, like FPL, is a subsidiary of NextEra Energy Inc., a Juno Beach-based company that is North America’s largest producer of electricity using wind-powered turbines. The wind experts have 90 wind farms in 17 states and Canada, capable of producing nearly 8,750 megawatts — enough to power nearly 2.2 million average homes.
Doug Coward, a former St. Lucie County commissioner and a vocal critic of the wind turbines, said he agrees with assessment that wind energy is just not the right type of renewable energy for Florida. Coward, who now works for a nonprofit agency that provides low-interest loans to homeowners to take advantage of renewable energies, has pushed for solar energy since his time on the County Commission.
Coward said he agrees with O’Sullivan that wind energy is “limited.”
“We need to promoting the right types of renewable energy,” Coward said. “Wind makes sense in Texas and California, solar makes sense in Florida. (Wind energy) just wasn’t the right type. When you promote the wrong type it’s not economically viable and hurts the cause. You have to promote the right type to make economic sense.”
Coward points to a 2008 renewable energy study conducted by a Massachusetts consulting firm for the state’s Public Service Commission, which states onshore wind energy, the kind FPL pushed for on Hutchinson Island in 2008, constitutes less than 1 percent of the renewable energy potential in Florida.
He said wind energy in Florida is a good renewable option if wind turbines are located offshore, or off land, but the infrastructure is not in place.
Commissioner Chris Craft, an original supporter for the Hutchinson wind turbines, eventually decided not to back the project because he believed the environmental and social impacts outweighed the energy savings of the project. He had hoped there would be enough energy produced from the turbines to get Hutchinson Island residents completely off the grid, but as discussions went on, he said, the number of homes it could provide electricity to got smaller.
“Realistically, it wasn’t worth it because overall, the carbon footprint of a wind turbine from beginning to end showed the input was not as good as the output,” said Craft, who added the turbines would only be functioning 20 percent of the time, so it didn’t make sense to back it.
The turbine project would have been located near the St. Lucie Nuclear Plant and was controversial among county residents and environmentalists for its location requiring state-owned land leased to the county, potential noise, the height and look of the turbines and its potential affects on birds and sea turtles.
FPL officials said in 2008, according to an energy analysis, the island’s average annual wind speed of 13.8 mph was strong enough for the company’s proposed wind farm and could provide enough electricity for 3,600 people or 1,800 houses.
Craft said although information may differ today, the public was not misled because data showed there was substantial wind there than in other places in the state. He said he stands by the decision to allow wind towers out west even though wind speeds looked marginal.
“They’re the experts and the ones making the investment,” Craft said. “If they want to explore putting up wind towers to see if they had the sustained winds for wind turbines, we said absolutely. St. Lucie County is very excited in exploring different opportunities for renewable energy, but it’s going to be a matter of when the technology will there to be viable.”