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Residents protest at FPL windmill tour  

HUTCHINSON ISLAND – They came armed with signs, questions and skepticism.

Several dozen people took Florida Power & Light Co. up on its offer to show off potential sites for wind turbines on the island, joining three county commissioners Friday morning on a tour of John Brooks park and FPL property near Walton Rocks beach. FPL has proposed putting four turbines on public land and five on its own property near the St. Lucie Nuclear Plant.

Residents, many opposed to the project, fired questions at FPL officials, asking about the effect of the turbines on birds and the environment, shadows and noise, and questioning why St. Lucie County was picked to be the first place in the state for the wind machines. On occasion, protesters challenged statements made by FPL, including claims the noise level will be at about 35 decibels (quiet enough to hold a conversation underneath them) and that shadows would be only a limited problem at dusk and dawn.

Commissioner Chris Craft said he expects commissioners may travel to visit the wind turbines FPL has in other states. He said he had concerns about the shadows cast by the structures and noise.

“I want to stand underneath it. I want to walk 200 feet out from it,” he said.

Commissioner Doug Coward is the only commissioner so far to come out strongly against putting the wind turbines on public land. Other commissioners have said they are open to the idea, but Craft and Lewis stressed they still were learning about the technology and had made no final decision about whether it’s appropriate for the island.

Each turbine is about 14 to 16 feet in diameter and requires about an acre to an acre and a half of land to sit on; together, the turbines are expected to provide power for about 2,800 homes, and FPL would like to see them in place by early 2009.

FPL was expected to approach commissioners Tuesday to seek approval for soil testing at the sites, but a company spokeswoman said Friday they are asking commissioners to postpone that discussion for another week. FPL Vice President Eric Silagy has said St. Lucie was chosen because it has open land on its coastline, the only place wind turbines can work in Florida, and commissioners are open to alternative energy.

“We’re going to make sure all the criteria are met and the public’s support is important to us,” Silagy said.

A major concern echoed by most attendees was the height of the structures – counting from the bottom of one of the towers to the top of a blade when it is at its peak in the rotation, a windmill would stretch more than 400 feet. Protestors carried signs showing the height of the Statue of Liberty (about 305 feet from the pedestal to the top of the torch), compared to the proposed turbines.

David Weaks, 53, of Fort Pierce wore a T-shirt that read “Renewable energy is American security” and said though he was hesitant about placing the turbines on public land, he was excited about the technology. FPL has said the benefits of wind energy include no pollution and no drain on local resources, such as water.

“We’ve got a renewable resource that’s free,” he said. “This is a clean technology.”

Others, like Steve and Linda Baker, of Hutchinson Island carried anti-wind turbine signs and said they remained skeptical of FPL’s claims.

“I just do not feel like it should be on Hutchinson Island,” Linda Baker said.

County Attorney Dan McIntyre made the following findings about whether wind turbines could legally be placed on public lands:

Frederick Douglass Park: The county would need the state’s approval to place a turbine here, as the state deeded the land to the county with certain restrictions.

“Appliance Dump” land: There are no restrictions on this land, which has been used illegally as a dump by some residents for years.

John Brooks Park: The land was purchased with the intent to preserve oceanfront land for recreation and conservation purposes; McIntyre recommends not using it for wind turbines. Several other parcels nearby owned by the state would require both the state and the county to sign off on using them.

By Derek Simmonsen

TCPalm

8 December 2007

This article is the work of the source indicated. Any opinions expressed in it are not necessarily those of National Wind Watch.

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