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A fly on the wall on turbine debate  

For once, I have to agree with the bloggers.

On Saturday there was an informational meeting about locating wind turbines on coastal property in St. Lucie County. I was unable to attend, yet after reading the online comments on our Web site, I felt like a fly on the wall.

The latest wrinkle in Florida Power & Light’s proposal, of course, is to site three turbines on state-owned (but county-managed) land immediately to the north of the St. Lucie Nuclear Plant, and six more on FPL land nearby. Maybe that’s not so much of a slap in the face as building them on the beach, but it hasn’t made many people (including County Attorney Dan McIntyre) any happier.

Island and Indian River Drive residents in particular, are united in their opposition to turbines because they’re ugly and obtrusive and they could have adverse effects on wildlife.

I have a different sticking point. I simply can’t get past the feeling the wool’s being pulled over our eyes by FPL.

I base this on gut reaction and online research. From what I can see, this project has much more going for it in PR/political/financial terms than anything remotely to do with energy production.

Why? The site is way too small to offer any sensible economic advantage. Yes, it might tell FPL whether wind power along Florida’s coast is viable, but I suspect they know it isn’t already. A Department of the Interior study puts all of Florida’s coastline firmly in the “marginal” category.

Even if turbines did produce meaningful amounts of electricity, experience in Europe (about 10 years ahead of us in energy policy terms) suggests it may be more trouble than it’s worth.

Back in the 1980s, Denmark invested heavily in wind power only to find turbines are inherently inefficient. They also tended to stay idle when demand for electricity was at its highest (which would be true of us, too – think of our long, hot, windless summers). When the Danish windmills did produce, the instability proved a real pain in the grid, if you get my drift.

The Danes ended up exporting more than 75 percent of the power they generated, and they sold it a big loss.

Ireland, Germany and Britain are also discovering similar drawbacks.

So if it’s not useful, practical or financially rewarding, why on earth is FPL so hell-bent on building turbines here?

My guess is that with federal tax credits, tax write-offs for depreciation and so on, it may actually be more lucrative for utilities not to produce power. The size of tax breaks to utilities are based, not on their green contribution, but the total amount of power they produce from all sources.

If this was a truly green project I could support it, visual problems and all. As it is, it’s starting to feel as slick a piece of marketing from our good neighbors at FPL as the late, unlamented coal plant.

Several bloggers have apparently reached the same conclusion.

I spoke this week with the main booster for wind power in St. Lucie, County Commissioner Chris Craft. I think he’s starting to have some questions about the viability of the project, too.

Yet Craft does feel he has at least brought the topic up for public debate and he feels that’s vindication enough. Craft argues that no matter which side you are in this debate, “at least we’ve started a conversation about green technology.”

By Anthony Westbury
Associate Editor


5 February 2008

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

The copyright of this article resides with the author or publisher indicated. As part of its noncommercial effort to present the environmental, social, scientific, and economic issues of large-scale wind power development to a global audience seeking such information, National Wind Watch endeavors to observe “fair use” as provided for in section 107 of U.S. Copyright Law and similar “fair dealing” provisions of the copyright laws of other nations. Send requests to excerpt, general inquiries, and comments via e-mail.

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