“This is a test. This is only a test …”
Truer words have never been spoken … or rather, broadcast over loudspeakers.
On Wednesday, Florida Power & Light Co. and emergency officials will conduct their annual exercise using outdoor sirens within a 10-mile radius of the company’s nuclear plant on Hutchinson Island.
The drill comes at an interesting time, when more than nuclear safety is being tested in St. Lucie County.
The test I refer to involves FPL, its push for electricity-producing wind turbines on public land next to its nuclear plant, and the way government played along at first but now appears splintered.
We have three players in this drama: the county, the state and, of course, FPL.
Watching the trio dance, occasionally stepping on each other’s toes, has been intriguing.
Budgetary windfall to county?
FPL first wanted to build the towering turbines along two active beaches, in addition to its nuclear plant property. Rather than expressing horror at the idea, a majority of county commissioners showed interest. With FPL offering to pay to use the land, what better way to make up for budget shortfalls during these tax-cutting times?
FPL eventually sweetened the pot by giving up the idea of turbines on the two beaches, but it still wants to build at Blind Creek Park, which is undeveloped state land the county maintains.
Now, though, the romance seems to have soured.
The county attorney pointed out legal problems with using the public land as a site for turbines, since taxpayers had bought it with the idea it would be conserved.
Then came new details about the wind turbines: They not only would stand 400 feet tall but also would have to be positioned atop 10- to 20-foot concrete pedestals. It seems that’s what is needed when these things are to be built next to the ocean, where storm surge might be a problem.
During the past week, the plot thickened as FPL pushed hard for a quick meeting with a state committee that must sign off on the deal, amid strong signals that state officials support the turbines. Was the county being pushed out of the approval picture?
That offended county leaders. Two commissioners who had backed the turbines began to waver, which could put the majority against FPL’s plan – at least locally.
Crist backs idea, with caution
Is it any surprise FPL has been working so closely with state officials? Gov. Charlie Crist is enamored with green energy, and the wind turbines seem to fit that bill. He said last week he wants to see the FPL plan move forward.
“I have been a huge proponent of that project and offer any support and encouragement that I can to make that happen,” he told Palm Beach Post reporter Dara Kam. He hopes it gets approval “sooner than later,” he said.
But when told some county commissioners object to putting the turbines on public land, Crist said: “Well, maybe we can find a suitable place.”
Maybe so, but he and the state Department of Environmental Protection appear to be the plan’s strongest remaining advocates.
And another curious development is FPL’s reducing the amount of land needed for the turbines at Blind Creek to under 5 acres.
That just happens to be an important threshold. Below that, the state committee can sign off on the deal by itself. Over that, it has to go before Crist and other members of the Cabinet.
Might this be an effort to avoid putting Crist in a potentially embarrassing position of voting for the project in the face of St. Lucie County opposition?
Let there be no question: This will be a test, one that resonates far beyond Blind Creek and St. Lucie County. It will show us who matters most when it comes to the fate of Florida’s public land.
By Glenn Henderson
Palm Beach Post Staff Writer
17 February 2008
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