Plans to build a “wind farm” that risks putting towering wind turbines in the migration paths of birds flying through South Florida moved a step closer to approval on Thursday.
Palm Beach County commissioners on Thursday approved changing development rules in order to better accommodate the 500-foot towers with rotating arms that catch the wind in order to generate power.
The final vote on the alternative energy development guidelines is Aug. 29.
The wind turbines create an environmental conundrum for some because of a proposal to erect a wind farm on agricultural land that was once part of the Everglades.
Putting wind turbines in the Everglades Agricultural Area threatens to create hazards for endangered and migrating birds the frequent the wide-open spaces south of Lake Okeechobee, according to representatives of the Sierra Club and Audubon Society.
While many environmentalists support alternatives to the polluting practice of burning fossil fuels to generate energy, they say putting wind turbines on the farmland in western Palm Beach County could pose too great a risk for eagles, wood storks and the Everglades snail kite.
In addition to the spinning blades, the blinking lights on top of the towers could prove too great a distraction to passing birds, said Drew Martin, of the Sierra Club.
“They will be drawn (to the towers), they will circle these and they will die,” Martin said.
Looming in the background of the County Commission’s decision Thursday was a still-pending proposal from the Missouri-based Wind Capital Group to build 80 wind turbines spread across 16,000 acres of sugar cane land near Belle Glade.
The wind turbines’ large rotating blades can spin nearly 200 mph, with each tower potentially generating enough energy to power 400 homes.
The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service in a July 1 letter to the company called for a more thorough analysis of potential wildlife threats from the wind farm. The federal regulators said that bird “collisions with turbine blades are often fatal, and usually resulting in the animal being effectively eliminated from the breeding population.”
George Gentile, the consultant who represents the wind farm proposal from the Wind Capital Group, called the federal concerns and environmentalists’ objections premature. He said a year-long review would determine the risk to birds and other wildlife.
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