Towering turbines that spin to provide electricity from wind aren’t what turbines used to be.
They’re a whole lot better, which is why Robin Saiz is still banking on building what could be the first wind farm in Florida.
Saiz is the project director for Wind Capital Group, the company behind the Sugarland Wind project, planned for 13,000 acres 7 miles east of Belle Glade.
“Because of changes in wind turbines, we’ve got technology that allows us to take advantage of a lesser wind resource. We can convert it more efficiently,” said Saiz, 36, of Palm Beach Gardens. The former Army officer learned the wind business while working for FPL Energy, now called NextEra Energy Resources in Juno Beach.
Today’s turbines are seven times larger than those produced in the 1990s and can provide up to 15 times as much electricity because they access another level of wind source, said Ellen Carey, spokeswoman for American Wind Energy Association. The typical blade is 130 feet long.
In mid-December, the St. Louis-based Wind Capital Group submitted its application for the Sugarland Wind project to Palm Beach County. The county commission could vote on the project as soon as March.
Plans call for the $300 million to $350 million wind farm to produce 200 megawatts of power – enough electricity for 55,000 to 65,000 homes, Saiz said.
It could be completed by late 2013, providing approximately 250 jobs during construction and 15 to 20 permanent jobs.
Saiz, who works at Wind Capital’s Jupiter office, was involved in the development of one of the world’s largest wind farms, NextEra’s Horse Hollow wind farm in Texas .
NextEra Energy Resources is the largest wind producer in North America, with roughly 85 wind farms in 17 states and Canada.
If approved, Sugarland Wind would be the first wind farm in Florida, where winds are generally not considered strong enough to convert into electricity. The nearest wind farm, a 29-megawatt facility in Buffalo Mountain, Tenn., is operated by the Tennessee Valley Authority.
Wind Capital, started in 2005, is small in comparison to NextEra.
“We can be nimble. We have a little bit more of an entrepreneurial spirt,” Saiz said.
While the proposed site’s winds are nothing like the winds in Texas, ocean breezes combined with wind from Lake Okeechobee make the location commercially viable, Saiz said.
“We have a daytime wind here. It helps with our demand for when we need the power,” he said.
Plans call for as many as 100 turbines, each roughly the height of a 30-story building, to be installed near State Road 880 and Browns Farm Road in the county’s Everglades Agricultural Area. Several farmers who are members of the Sugar Cane Growers Cooperative of Florida, Belle Glade, have signed leases with Wind Capital, said cooperative spokeswoman Barbara Miedema.
Dennis Wedgworth, president of Wedgworth Farms, said the leases will provide them with additional income while the windmills won’t have a significant impact on their farming operations.
Neither Saiz nor Wedgworth would disclose the amount of revenue farmers will receive per year from the leases.
In 2007, Florida Power & Light Co., NextEra’s utility subsidiary, proposed a wind farm on Hutchinson Island in St. Lucie County. Nearby residents opposed the plan both aesthetically and environmentally because of concerns about the effects on wetlands, birds, bats, fish and sea turtles.
The St. Lucie project is on hold, FPL spokesman Neil Nissan said.
In contrast, the proposed Palm Beach County site is not home to any people, just wildlife, and groups such as Audubon of Florida and the Sierra Club have expressed concern that the turbines could kill birds and bats.
Saiz said a year’s worth of bird data has been collected to evaluate the impact on bird populations. Studies are continuing and will be combined with University of Florida data .
The project still must be approved by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service will also weigh in on the biological studies, Saiz said.
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