November 9, 2007

Wind power: Malta residents hear from power company

MALTA – Around 70 people attended a meeting Wednesday night hoping to get answers from a Florida-based power company about a wind farm being proposed along the Lee-DeKalb county line, but some left feeling the meeting was more of a sales pitch than a dialogue.

“What I got out of the meeting was, ‘Sign the papers and trust us,’ and that’s not a good way to do it,” Larry Anderson said. Anderson, a DeKalb County Board member from Malta, is among the landowners approached by Florida Power & Light about leasing space on his farm for the electricity-generating wind turbines.

“They gave answers to some questions, but they were pretty vague,” Anderson said. “What I heard was, ‘Take it or leave it. If you don’t want a turbine, someone else will.’”

Five years ago, FPL obtained enough property easements and permits from both counties to build a 64-turbine wind farm, but killed the project when it was unable to find a buyer for the electricity. Changes in the laws governing utilities and in the energy market since then rekindled the company’s interest in the area, FPL spokesman Steve Stengel said in an interview in August.

Company representatives have been contacting landowners for months, trying to determine who would be open to locating the turbines, which can be up to 420 feet tall, on their property. Many of those who attended Wednesday’s meeting came with option agreements in hand.

If signed, those agreements would give FPL a three-year option to include those properties in a wind farm design. Owners of properties that do end up in the final design would then be presented with detailed lease agreements, company representatives said at the meeting.

Landowner Steve Almburg hasn’t decided whether to sign the option yet, and doesn’t believe many of his neighbors have, either.

“We wanted some questions answered, and I’m not sure they were,” Almburg said. “One of the first questions was from my wife, and she asked, ‘Can we see where they’re going to be?’ They know, because they’ve done the wind studies, but they won’t tell us. … We need to know ourselves. You sign a deal up and you’re not sure if you’re even going to get a turbine, but they’ve got your OK to do it.”

In emphasizing the deals with individual property owners, Almburg said, the company is forgetting that rural Malta residents like him are a community with common interests.

“I don’t have any problem with somebody wanting to have (a turbine) on their farm,” he said. “But this is a community.”

The company doesn’t know exactly where the turbines will be because it can’t design a farm without knowing which properties can be included, Stengel said in a Thursday phone interview.

“If your potential area is square, your array will look one way,” he said. “If the available property looks like an L, your array would have to be something totally different.”

FPL representatives at the meeting did promise the Almburgs they could see a map of where the strongest wind points are in the area, but emphasized they could not say where the towers would likely be placed.

Some landowners were concerned about not having control once the contracts are signed regarding where the towers and access roads would be on their property. Anderson said that question was never truly resolved.

“They backtracked on that,” he said. “They said, ‘We’ll work with you,’ but then they said, ‘You don’t have to have a turbine on your property.’”

Stengel said he could not address a hypothetical situation, but said the company tries to work with landowners to find a “win-win solution.”

Though landowners at the meeting were told the project could be completed sometime in 2009, Stengel said it is actually still in a very early stage.

“It’s obviously something we’re interested in, but I wouldn’t say we’re any closer to a go or no-go than we were a couple of months ago,” he said. “We’re preparing to file for our permits, but it will probably be early next year.”

Landowners also wanted to know the planned size for the project, which has been described as anywhere from 150 megawatts to 380 megawatts. The large towers likely to be used in the project generate around 2.5 megawatts each.

“At this stage of any project, the proxy size is in the 100- to 150-megawatt range,” Stengel said. “There are lots of things that can alter that.”

Anderson, one of two District 1 representatives on the county board, took exception to a statement by company representatives that the county had asked FPL to come back and make another pitch after the initial project fell through.

“I got bombarded after the meeting with people asking, ‘Why did the county board give them permission to come up here and solicit farmers to do this?’” Anderson said. “The county board was not involved in this.”

A single county board member did inquire whether the company would come back and try again, DeKalb County Administrator Ray Bockman said in a phone interview Thursday, but he didn’t know how important that inquiry was in the company’s decision to take a second look at the area.

By Dana Herra

Daily Chronicle

9 November 2007

URL to article: