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Beach windmills up in the air  

St. Lucie County is taking steps to set an example on the Treasure Coast by exploring a variety of cutting-edge alternative energy sources.

As County Administrator Doug Anderson said recently, “St. Lucie County is striving to become the greenest county in the state of Florida and one of the leading green counties in the country.”

But, going from public support for alternative energy to the reality of producing that energy is a path filled with hurdles that may be difficult to overcome – at least politically.

In a major step, the county has teamed with Geoplasma Inc., of Atlanta, for the company to build a $450 million facility at the county landfill to vaporize household garbage and use it to produce electricity. Construction of the plant could begin this summer.

More recently, the county has been approached by Florida Power & Light to erect wind turbines on Hutchinson Island as an electricity-producing test project.

FPL Energy, the parent company of FPL, currently operates 6,000 wind turbines on 53 wind farms in 16 states. The test project in St. Lucie would be the first in Florida for the company.

FPL wants to build four turbines at county-owned Frederick Douglass and John Brooks parks on the beach and five at its St. Lucie Nuclear Power Plant on Hutchinson Island.

Even supporters of alternative energy such as wind power have are opposing using public land for the project. They also fear the potential impact of the giant windmills.

The use of public environmental land, such as these two parks, for an industrial project is a non-starter. County commissioners should reject the idea.

Even if FPL pursues windmills on its own property, on other private land or on less sensitive public land, numerous questions must be addressed.

Besides the appearance of the windmills – potentially more than 40 stories tall or twice the height of area condominium towers – there are concerns about the potential impact on birds from the propellers and on fish and turtles from the noise.

St. Lucie County officials should be cautious about the science associated with the windmill project that, if successful, could be only the start of so-called wind farms.

But credit St. Lucie officials for being proactive in seeking other energy options. They wrote to Gov. Charlie Crist and the head of FPL asking for a solar power test site or other large-scale solar project to convert sunlight into electricity.

FPL, however, has approached Martin County about developing the demonstration project at its 2,190-acre plant in Indiantown. The proposed facility would generate 10 megawatts of energy, enough to serve 2,500 utility customers.

Martin, therefore, could be leading the Treasure Coast in use of solar power.

Solar power plants require huge amounts of land. FPL has begun a solar project in Sarasota County using 1,200 photovoltaic panels on a site about half the size of a football field. The facility is expected to produce 250 kilowatts of energy, enough to power about 44 homes.

Going green is becoming increasingly popular, but it requires concessions.

Getting from concept to reality requires public support. Studies and debates will determine what kind of support individual projects on the Treasure Coast may have.

While St. Lucie’s trash zapper has drawn general support, high-tech windmills may be an entirely different matter.

TCPalm

19 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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