As much as Florida needs more clean energy alternatives, giant windmills don’t belong on St. Lucie County beaches that were bought with public money to preserve.
Florida Power & Light Co., whose representatives are lobbying county commissioners, wants to put five wind turbines on the company’s property near the utility’s nuclear plant on Hutchinson Island. FPL promises to assess the impact on migrating birds and other species that could be harmed by the windmills. No problem there. But FPL – at the invitation of some commissioners – also wants to place four wind turbines on public beaches, specifically at John Brooks Park and Frederick Douglass Beach.
Commissioner Doug Coward supports clean energy, but he correctly questions the legality of using public land for private profit. He also worries that the windmills could “change the character of the landscape” and prevent people from enjoying the rare South Florida experience of less-developed beaches.
Other commissioners say they haven’t yet made up their minds, but having just approved state-ordered budget cuts, they love the tax money FPL’s project might generate. Chris Craft estimates that the county could start with the revenue from FPL’s “$40 million” investment. Paula Lewis said the windmills won’t be an aesthetic problem because “people can just look at the water.” Charles Grande, who invited FPL to consider the public beaches, is intrigued by “nifty” windmill features and hopes that the concrete pad beneath the structures could be used for beach parking. Joe Smith said that “many of our preserves are used for other purposes.”
Parent company FPL Group, based in Juno Beach, has put $6 billion into wind power, and the investment is paying off. Usually, though, wind farms are in remote locations. When a 155-foot blade is pointing up from the turbine, the total height is about 40 stories. In sunlight, the turbine casts a giant shadow that the blade chops up, creating a “flickering” effect that could drive beachgoers nuts, even if they “just look at the water.” That annoyance alone could clear out swimmers, fishermen and tourists. FPL representatives who have discussed the windmills claim ignorance of that problem – though it is discussed on the firm’s Web site – and did not tell commissioners about it.
A Public Service Commission representative who met individually with commissioners this week pushed the need to use public property for clean, green energy projects. Some public property might be suitable for such projects. St. Lucie’s beaches aren’t on the list.
Palm Beach Post editorial
2 November 2007
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