Audubon of Florida weighed in on a proposed wind farm in the Everglades Agricultural Area on Monday.
In a 10-page letter to the Wind Capital Group LLC, Audubon Dir. of Wildlife Conservation, Julie Wraithmell, and Science Coordinator Paul Gray, recommended changes in the monitoring protocols the company intends to use to identify danger to birds and other wildlife. Among the changes:
1. Conduct radar studies to monitor movements of birds, especially movement of birds, bats and insects at night.
2. Collect at least three years of data on regional animal movements before turbines are sited and installed. The company has proposed a one-year study. However, migratory patterns are heavily dependent on environmental conditions, such as water supply, food abundance, weather, agricultural practices, breeding status and other disturbances which can vary from year-to-year.
3. Assess further land use changes. For example, a 1,600-acre landfill proposed for the area would attract more birds and additional reservoirs and storm-water treatment areas would attract more birds.
4. Audubon is “very concerned” about the turbines’ impact on the endangered Everglades snail kite. While Audubon applauded the company for its “commitment to thoroughly mitigating losses and finding truly meaningful mitigation opportunities,” the group urged the company to develop specific mitigation plans and plenty of time for review and discussion.
5. Although the company hopes to build between 80-100 turbines on thousands of acres of sugar land east of Belle Glade, Audubon urged the company to initially install no more than 10 turbines, which could be monitored for impacts before additional turbines are added.
The $250 million project would be a boon for the Glades area, creating 250-300 jobs, in a region with unemployment over 30 percent. The project would also be Florida’s first wind farm. The company met with county planners in February to begin work on changes to development rules that would be needed before its turbines could be built. The turbines would be placed a quarter-mile to a half-mile apart and would stretch across 11,500 to 15,000 acres. Each turbine would stand between 262 feet and 328 feet tall, roughly the size of a 30-story building or the Statue of Liberty.
Although little has been heard about the project in recent months, the company has been working on permitting, design, costs and finding a buyer for the electricity, said Robin Saiz, Wind Capital’s director of project development. The first public hearing on the project will be held in October or November, Saiz said.
“This is the quiet time,” Saiz said. “We’re doing our due diligence, construction analysis, interconnect studies and continuously doing avian studies.”
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