Angling to become the “wind farm capital” of Florida, Palm Beach County on Monday OK’d rules to allow the spread of towering wind turbines despite the threat to migrating birds.
The County Commission changed development rules to better accommodate 500-foot-tall wind turbines with spinning blades that harness wind power to produce electricity.
New rules could first benefit Missouri-based Wind Capital Group, which proposes 80 wind turbines spread across 16,000 acres of sugar-cane land near Belle Glade.
Environmental groups say they support the non-polluting, alternative energy that wind turbines can produce, but not on agricultural land between Lake Okeechobee and the Everglades, where the towers threaten migrating birds.
Federal environmental regulators say the Wind Capital Group’s proposed wind farm poses a particular risk to birds in the Loxahatchee National Wildlife Refuge, the northern remnants of the Everglades.
“This is difficult for us to oppose because … we all love the idea of wind farming,” said Steve Horowitz, president of the Friends of Arthur R. Marshall Loxahatchee National Wildlife Refuge, which stretches across western Palm Beach County. “The problem here is the location.”
Business leaders support the rule change as a way for Palm Beach County to better position itself to become the state’s leader in wind power.
“We’ve got some major energy issues here in Florida. … We really don’t produce any energy in a major way,” said state Rep. Jeff Clemens, D-Lake Worth, who serves on the House Energy and Utilities Subcommittee. He supported the county’s rule change Monday.
The Wind Capital Group proposal still must get county zoning approval and and approval from state and federal environmental regulators.
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