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Survey supports turbines, FPL says

Two weeks after scaling back a plan to put wind turbines on Hutchinson Island, Florida Power & Light Co. officials released a survey Wednesday attesting to what they say is broad support across St. Lucie County for the more modest proposal.

But wind turbine opponents questioned the survey results, with some claiming that the timing of their release was a sign that public opinion might be turning against the power company’s $45 million plan to build the first wind farm in the southeastern United States.

The survey says 81.6 percent of the 500 respondents support FPL’s latest plan, which reduces the number of turbines from nine to six and shrinks the affected stretch of Hutchinson Island from 9 or 10 miles to 3 miles.

According to the survey, 61.2 percent said they “strongly” support the plan, while 20.4 percent said they “somewhat” support it. Ten percent of respondents said they oppose the proposal, with 5.4 percent saying “strongly” and 4.6 percent saying “somewhat.” The remaining 8.4 percent either had no opinion or declined to respond, according to FPL.

“We’re pleased, but not surprised,” FPL spokeswoman Amy Brunjes said. “We’ve heard all along that there’s quite a silent majority in the county that are in favor of bringing renewable energy to St. Lucie County, and this polls substantiates that.”

FPL hopes to win approval by the fall. Hours before a March 18 public hearing, company officials announced they were cutting the number of wind turbines to six. They would be capable of generating 13.8 megawatts of electricity, enough for 1,800 homes or 3,600 people, according to FPL.

A majority of three county commissioners, who must grant height variances and other permits for the project to move forward, have said they oppose the plan. But two said they opposed it because some turbines would sit on public land, something not required under the scaled-down version. The other opponent, Chris Craft, said he believes it is not worthwhile to build so few.

Lisa Linowes of the Industrial Wind Action Group, which has opposed wind turbine plans, called the poll a “classic” tactic, designed to pressure commissioners.

“It’s unlikely FPL would have taken this step had public opinion been running their way,” Linowes wrote in an e-mail to opponents of the FPL plan.

For example, Linowes said, a proposal to put wind turbines on public land in Maryland met strong opposition. After public hearings, the company pitching the turbines released a public opinion poll.

“You can guess what the poll said,” Linowes said. “It was overwhelmingly in support of.”

The FPL poll also found that 87 percent said they liked the idea of wind power and 86 percent supported the use of wind to increase the supply of electricity in Florida.

Linowes said those general questions bait respondents into voicing support for the proposal being pitched.

FPL defended the methodology of the poll, which was conducted by McLaughlin & Associates and Penn, Schoen & Berland.

“The results are there,” Brunjes said. “It’s a scientific poll done by nationally known research pollsters.”

FPL also noted that 73.2 percent of respondents said they support building wind turbines on Hutchinson Island. That figure rose to 81.6 percent when pollsters explained that only FPL property, as opposed to public land, would be used.

According to FPL, the poll also found:

# That 83.8 percent of respondents had heard or read about FPL’s need to build new facilities to meet growing electricity needs.

# That 88 percent had seen, heard or read about FPL’s plans to build wind turbines on Hutchinson Island.

# That 59 percent agreed with the statement that “climate change is important and we should do everything we possibly can to reduce the process for our children and future.”

By Paul Quinlan
Palm Beach Post Staff Writer


3 April 2008