NORTH HUTCHINSON ISLAND – As Florida Power & Light Co. gets closer to a public hearing on its wind turbine plan, skeptics of the project have plenty of questions left unanswered.
What about the effect on birds? Or sea turtles? And why put turbines in St. Lucie County in the first place?
Nick Blount, external affairs manager for FPL on the Treasure Coast, tried to answer some of those questions from about 20 members of the Conservation Alliance of St. Lucie County on Wednesday night and promised to try to find answers to others raised by residents.
“I respect people’s opinion about our wind project, but what I do want to do is tell our side of the story,” Blount said. “That’s what we want.”
Blount said the company is looking at possible turbine sites elsewhere in the state, but has picked St. Lucie for its first project because it owns land in the county, it believes conditions are favorable and county commissioners indicated support for green technology.
Being rejected in St. Lucie would not be “the end of the world,” he said. “We’ve got to start with wind somewhere.”
He urged critics to submit studies and data that cast doubt on the project, and disputed claims made about the lack of wind on the island, saying the company’s wind measurements from the plant indicate there would be enough wind to operate, albeit about 20 percent of the time and powering only about 3,600 homes per year.
Blount had answers for some questions but not others. In regards to sea turtles, the company has said the turbines would be placed away from beaches, and Blount said they would likely use non-white lighting to comply with Federal Aviation Administration requirements while attempting to minimize disturbances to sea turtle nesting.
Bird studies are still ongoing and will require both pre- and post-construction studies, Blount said, though the company’s Web site indicates it does not believe the project will pose a danger to birds.
Pressed on access to Walton Rocks Beach, where three of the turbines would be placed, Blount said they want to improve access to the beach but said it might be different than what it is now.
“We don’t intend to make access to the park worse,” he said.
Indian Riverkeeper Kevin Stinnette said he has several issues he still thinks should be addressed, preferably by conducting a full environmental impact statement.
Blount said the company would do what is required, but he didn’t commit to a full environmental impact study.
In addition to sensitive wetlands being in the area, Stinnette said he has concerns about the potential effects on sea turtles, fish and birds. He noted that spawning trout will stop when a train passes a mile away because of vibrations. He said he’d like to see studies done that would address those questions.
Sound studies on the company’s Web site indicate the ambient noise would be louder than the turbines at several points sampled on the mainland, but the study does not specifically address wildlife or fish in the water.
Blount told the group he is not the company’s main expert on environmental issues and wrote down questions he didn’t have answers to, promising the company would address them.
Many of the issues are new because these would be the first wind machines of their kind in Florida, and they are on a barrier island, adding another wrinkle, Stinnette said.
“The studies just haven’t been done,” he said. “I want to see the data.”
By Derek Simmonsen
28 May 2008
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