Public lands are off the table.
That was Florida Power & Light Co.’s message Tuesday morning as the company announced it would no longer pursue three wind turbines on state-owned land at Blind Creek Park. Instead, it will move ahead only with the six turbines proposed for land it owns around the St. Lucie Nuclear Plant on Hutchinson Island.
The issue was set to go before the County Commission tonight, as commissioners were to consider writing a letter to the state denying an easement for the Blind Creek property. Because the county manages the land, its approval would have been necessary.
“What we’ve heard consistently from the residents and commissioners of St. Lucie County is that they share our commitment to renewable energy but don’t want to use public lands for wind turbines,” said Eric Silagy, vice president of development for FPL, in a statement. “We hope that by removing this obstacle we can continue progress on a project that helps meet the goal of reducing carbon dioxide emissions and St. Lucie County’s goal of becoming a renewable energy leader.”
The county would still have to approve zoning and conditional use permits for the turbines, as well as a height waiver, as the machines stand more than 400 feet tall when a blade is at the top of its rotation.
Silagy said the company has completed some studies on its own land and found that the turbines would have no negative effect on sea turtles and would not disturb any archaeological sites, both issues raised by opponents in the past. Studies on whether they would negatively impact birds are still being done, but Silagy said he didn’t think any negative impact would be found.
The average wind speed near the plant is about 14 mph, which is enough for the project to be viable, Silagy said.
The company said it was merely a coincidence that its announcement came on the same day the County Commission was to discuss the issue. Silagy said FPL had been evaluating whether it could still move forward with the project if it lost the public land sites.
The six turbines are estimated to generate electricity for about 3,600 people and the average cost on a customer’s bill would be an extra 3 cents per month, according to the company. FPL would need to go before the Public Service Commission to show the rate increase is justified, a process that would not begin until after the county gives its approval.
FPL has so far received $2.5 million in renewable energy grants from the state, and FPL has contacted the state Department of Environmental Protection to let them know about the change in the project.
The company hopes to get county approval by this fall and begin the first phase of construction before the end of the year. If that doesn’t occur, Silagy said they would have to re-evaluate things, as construction depends on the availability of materials and making sure the work is not done during sea turtle nesting season.
FPL said the structures would, at a minimum, be 2,510 feet away from any critical buildings at the St. Lucie Nuclear Plant or any homes. Internal employee e-mails from last year suggested there were concerns among some employees about the turbines posing a danger to the plant.
Silagy said in the event of “catastrophic winds,” the blades would travel no more than 2,500 feet. The closest residential structures are the Sands condominiums, south of the nuclear plant.
The six turbines would be the first in Florida and in the Southeastern United States.
The company is hopeful that environmentalists and others who have raised objections to the proposal might now support it. Many residents along Indian River Drive have objected to the turbines, citing environmental concerns and worries about property values decreasing because the wind machines will be noticeable from across the river.
Signs advertising tonight’s commission meeting have popped up on protest signs along the drive.
Three of the five county commissioners were opposed to allowing an easement on Blind Creek Park for the project. A letter to the state Acquisition and Restoration Council, which oversees the use of state conservation land, was expected to go out tonight in advance of the council’s April 10 and 11 meetings.
The last time the turbine issue was on a county agenda, during a daytime meeting, opponents packed commission chambers and spoke for several hours during public comment against the project. A handful of residents spoke in favor of the turbines during the meeting, but most were opposed.
By Derek Simmonsen
18 March 2008
|Wind Watch relies entirely
on User Funding