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FPL wind towers in western St. Lucie County not creating controversy like turbine proposal

Florida Power & Light Co.’s latest efforts to generate wind power in St. Lucie County should meet far less resistance than the company’s controversial attempt to put turbines on Hutchinson Island.

FPL has asked the county for permission to build 200-foot meteorological towers to gather wind data in western St. Lucie County. The data would determine whether there’s enough wind to build turbines out west.

While environmentalist groups and island residents worried turbines on Hutchinson Island would negatively affect humans and wildlife, those concerns have not been brought up with the new location.

In fact, no one came to speak against the matter at the county’s March 17 planning and zoning meeting. And some environmentalists are OK with gathering data through test towers.

“In general, I would support science,” said Kevin Stinnette, the Indian Riverkeeper board president. “I think the collection of data and the collection of good science is important.”

FPL still wants to put six wind turbines on Hutchinson Island near the St. Lucie Nuclear Plant. But the company and county are stuck in a holding pattern after the county asked FPL to pay for data from an independent third party.

Stinnette said he still has concerns about the impact on residents wherever turbines are built. If turbines were built in western St. Lucie County, however, they would not affect sea turtle nesting sites, migratory bird patterns and fish spawning.

County staff has recommended approving the towers. According to the staff report, the towers would not create noise or create fumes and would be relatively small compared to the turbines. The planning and zoning board unanimously recommended approval with a 7-0 vote at the March 17 meeting. Any structures must be taken down within three years.

“I think we’ve made it clear that it’s to evaluate wind speed to see if turbines would work,” County Growth Management Director Mark Satterlee said.

Tuesday’s meeting is the first of two public hearings, so commissioners will not vote yet. If approved, FPL would consult with a third party before picking sites for the towers, Manager of FPL Product Development Ryan Fair told the planning and zoning board.

Fair said then that the company typically needs one year’s worth of data, but the company looks to collect more data on bird migratory patterns and monitor for wildlife.

In 2009, the county adopted a policy containing goals, strategies and actions to create a sustainable economy. The policy includes a section on renewable sources of energy, and FPL’s plan follows that code, according to the staff report.

FPL officials did not return calls for comment in this story.