With the use of public lands off the table, the next battle in the war over bringing wind turbines to Hutchinson Island is beginning to take shape.
Florida Power & Light Co. announced Tuesday morning it would no longer pursue turbines on state-owned land managed by the county at Blind Creek Park and would instead move ahead with just six turbines on land it owns around the St. Lucie Nuclear Plant.
Local residents packed commission chambers for Tuesday’s commission meeting where the turbines were originally set to come up for discussion. At the end of the night, commissioners agreed to work on a letter to the state outlining some general concerns they had about the Blind Creek location.
Many residents wore red or orange shirts to show their opposition while another group, composed of local carpenters and other trade union employees, donned bright green shirts with slogans supporting wind. One of the union organizers, while acknowledging the groups often do work for FPL, said the employees were there because they believe the wind project will be good for the local economy.
When Commission Chair Joe Smith read to the crowd the letter from FPL saying it would withdraw from Blind Creek, there were loud cheers and applause. A majority of residents in the chambers later raised their hands when asked if they opposed the project.
“We think it’s wonderful, we’re elated,” said Julie Zahniser, head of the Save St. Lucie Alliance that opposes the project. “We’d like them to pull out of the other property next … all of the same problems that existed on the public land exist on the private land.”
Zahniser raised concerns about negative effects on birds, other animals and plant life in the area and said opponents do not think the technology is truly viable, despite FPL’s claims, calling it a “tax avoidance scheme.”
Zahniser said her organization believes three commissioners are firmly against the project, though only one has publicly stated opposition.
Three of five commissioners have previously said they are against placing turbines at Blind Creek Park and the commission was set to send a letter to the state Acquisition and Restoration Council opposing the machines there. The state council, which oversees state conservation land, was originally going to consider a request for an easement on the land from FPL during meetings on April 10 and 11, but the item is no longer on the agenda, a state spokeswoman confirmed Tuesday.
The company said it was merely a coincidence that its announcement came on the same day the County Commission was to discuss the issue. Eric Silagy, vice president of development for FPL, said the company been mulling over the decision for about a month and had to decide whether the project was still economically viable without the Blind Creek sites.
“It’s not ideal, but it is very much viable,” Silagy said.
Silagy said the company has completed some studies on its own land and found 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 expect any problems to surface.
The average wind speed near the plant is about 14 mph, which is enough for the project to be viable as 6 to 8 mph is the company’s minimum threshold, Silagy said. All of the turbines would be west of the dune line, he said.
The company hopes to get county approval by the fall and begin the first phase of the eight-month-long construction process before the end of the year. The first of the machines could be running by early 2009.
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, about 2,510 feet away.
•Florida Power & Light Co. pulled out of plans for wind turbines on state-owned land at Blind Creek Park and instead are only pursuing six wind machines on its own property near the St. Lucie Nuclear Plant.
•The county will need to sign off on zoning and conditional use permits and a height variance to allow the structures on Hutchinson Island.
•The revised project cost is about $45 million and is expected to cost customers an extra 3 cents per month on their electric bills.
•The revised plans are expected to generate 22 million kilowatt hours of electricity per year, enough the company says to serve about 3,600 people.
By Derek Simmonsen
18 March 2008
|Wind Watch relies entirely
on User Funding