They’re back, sort of.
At Thursday night’s St. Lucie County Planning & Zoning Commission meeting, the board recommended granting permission to Florida Power & Light Co. to erect temporary towers in the western county to determine if such sites might be suitable for wind turbines.
The utility would still need the approval of the full County Commission before any towers could be built.
In some ways, we’ve walked down this road before, and that’s why the utility’s choice of western sites for turbines seems a little odd.
You see, back in 2005, when FPL was hell-bent on building a “clean” coal-fired power plant near the Okeechobee line, environmentalists who objected to coal were told by FPL that solar and wind power in that area were completely impractical.
And then a few years later, FPL said something similar in 2008, when the utility applied to erect six 400-foot-tall wind turbines at the nuclear plant on South Hutchinson Island.
The turbines simply had to be sited close to the beach, FPL insisted, because of wind velocities and frequency in that open location. I recall an engineer saying that even moving the turbines a hundred yards to the east across State Road A1A would drop wind speeds like a lead balloon. Simply couldn’t be done, he said.
Yet now they want to try something similar 20-odd miles inland, where most studies say there is even less wind?
The towers that received the P&Z’s blessing would be nowhere as intrusive as those that had been intended for the beach. At about 200 feet high and with a footprint of only 5 feet in area, they would be relatively inconspicuous, especially in all those wide open western spaces (wherever they might be).
Maybe I’m too cynical, but I can’t help wondering a few things about this application.
Now that eco-warriors Doug Coward and Charles Grande are no longer on the Board of County Commissioners, does FPL think it’s going to be easier to get projects like this approved?
Grande, who now sits on the P&Z Committee, voted for the temporary towers Thursday night. He believes in at least looking at the western lands, not least because if FPL can find enough wind, there would be the space needed for a wind farm. And that, Grande told me, could offer a shot in the arm to the struggling agricultural community, and it would also make economic sense, which cannot be said about the beach version.
The relative isolation of land out west would help reduce the adverse visual effects of turbine towers, Grande said.
“They wouldn’t affect most animals that don’t have four legs,” he quipped.
FPL still has its original Hutchinson Island turbine application pending with the county, but staff and applicant seem to be at an impasse. FPL wants a public hearing, while county staff want the utility to pay for an independent third-party study to prove the site’s feasibility.
Looks and sounds like stalemate.
Technically the beach project is still alive, though some of us believe it’s on life support.
FPL received $2 million in alternative energy grants from the state for the turbine project under “greener” Gov. Charlie Crist. Now that there’s a new occupant in the mansion, will he be so friendly toward the idea? And does keeping the thing on the back burner mean FPL doesn’t have to return the money?
I became convinced that FPL was never really serious about the beach project. For a total of something close to $65 million, the six turbines would have supplied electricity to barely 3,000 nearby residents. And that’s assuming there was ever enough wind to regularly spin the blades – something on which even the Department of Energy has its doubts.
It always seemed this was more about getting lucrative tax breaks and energy credits at the state and federal levels, rather than being a genuine green, power-producing project.
Only time will tell if this latest FPL initiative will ever become more than a science experiment. I’m awaiting further developments with great interest.
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