ST. LUCIE COUNTY – The Lone Star State might just hold the key to whether wind turbines should be put on public land on Hutchinson Island.
County Administrator Doug Anderson and Commission Chairman Joe Smith, along with a videographer, will travel to Abilene, Texas, next week to view Florida Power & Light’s Horse Hollow Wind Energy Centers, which have more than 400 wind turbines on almost 60,000 acres in two counties. Other commissioners have not committed to going, but may still join the trip, according to a county spokesman.
FPL’s proposal to put nine wind turbines on Hutchinson Island in St. Lucie County – four potentially on public land – has been a divisive issue. Those against the project protested during a tour of the possible sites in December and have been vocal in meetings and in letters and e-mails to county commissioners.
Anderson said he doesn’t just want to see the turbines, he also wants to talk to residents to see what they think about them. The group plans to spend a full day learning about the project, not including travel time between Florida and Texas.
“We’ll be able to actually see and hear for ourselves,” Anderson said. “Hopefully, we’ll also be able to determine some of the (Abilene) community’s attitude, positive and negative, toward these windmills.”
Smith, who has not taken a position on the issue, said he wants to visit the structures at night, as well as during the day, to see what impact they have.
“I think obviously there’s been a lot of community discussion about the perceived ill effects of wind-generated power,” said Smith. “I think it’s important before making any decision, positive or negative, that you have the facts … Being able to stand underneath a windmill gives you an opportunity to see, hear and feel.”
The Horse Hollow turbines have had critics – a group of rural landowners filed a lawsuit in Texas district court last year claiming the machines devalued their property and were a noisy nuisance, though a jury ultimately ruled in FPL Energy’s favor, according to the Abilene Reporter News.
While no one locally has brought up the issue of a lawsuit, the project does face some legal problems. In memos, County Attorney Dan McIntyre recommended not using John Brooks Park because it was specifically set aside for recreation and conservation purposes and said using Frederick Douglass Park would require state approval because the state deeded the land to the county with certain restrictions.
Commissioner Doug Coward, who has publicly come out against turbines on public land, has suggested several alternate locations in meetings with FPL. Among them are: Harbor Branch Oceanographic Institution; north of the St. Lucie County International Airport, near U.S. 1 and Indrio Road; and at the county landfill, according to county e-mails.
Company spokeswoman Sharon Bennett said FPL is continuing to investigate sites and has made no decisions or eliminated any from consideration. Company officials have said they plan to go before the commission soon to get permission to take soil samples at several of the proposed sites, but no date for that hearing has been set, Bennett said.
QUESTIONS ABOUT WIND POWER
WHY ST. LUCIE COUNTY?
Florida Power & Light Co. has said it picked St. Lucie because it has open land on its coastline, the company already has a power plant in the county and commissioners are open to the idea of alternative energy.
WHERE WOULD THE TURBINES GO?
Nine sites are being considered for turbines on Hutchinson Island, four on public land at John Brooks and Frederick Douglass parks and five on FPL property near the St. Lucie Nuclear Plant. FPL wants them in place by early 2009.
HOW BIG WOULD THEY BE?
The turbines would be mounted on steel towers roughly 14 to 16 feet in diameter and up to 417 feet tall, measured from the ground to the top of a blade when it is at its peak in its rotation. They require about an acre of land.
HOW MUCH POWER WOULD THEY GENERATE?
It is expected the turbines would serve about 2,800 customers each year depending on how many and the type of turbine.
WHAT ARE THE BENEFITS?
The turbines are a clean energy that produces no pollutants and uses no local resources, such as water, to operate.
WHAT ARE THE CONCERNS?
Residents are worried about the height of the structures and the visual impact they would have on the island, the potential noise, the possibility of harm to birds and the environment and the use of public lands for the project.
By Derek Simmonsen
1 January 2008
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