Splattered birds make going green a tough sell.
The risk of birds flying into fast-spinning blades atop wind-catching turbines the size of the Statue of Liberty threatens to torpedo a proposed “wind farm” that could produce non-polluting energy on the edge of the Everglades.
The same environmental groups that advocate wind and solar as alternatives to using polluting fossil fuels to produce electricity also oppose the wind farm planned on Palm Beach County sugar cane fields.
The location, between Lake Okeechobee and Everglades, poses too great a threat to everything from migrating ducks to the endangered Everglades snail kite, according to Audubon of Florida.
“You insert this field of whirling blades (and) you basically have a Cuisinart that is spinning,” said Charles Lee, of Audubon of Florida. “You have the real potential to splatter the birds.”
There’s little dispute that 500-foot tall wind turbines, spread across 13,000 acres of farmland that was once part of the Everglades, would kill birds.
How many birds would die and whether that sacrifice is worth fostering alternative energy in South Florida are big factors in determining whether “Sugarland Wind” and its 114 towering turbines moves forward.
In the long run, climate change fostered by polluting power plants poses much more risk to birds and the environment as a whole than the wind farm, project director Robin Saiz said.
“Look at the big picture,” Saiz said. “We are helping to clean the air. It’s something we can affect locally now.”
Tall, spinning blades generating wind-powered electricity already dot the agricultural landscape from California to Texas.
Now the Missouri-based Wind Capital Group proposes building Florida’s first wind farm on sugar cane fields beside the Loxahatchee National Wildlife Refuge – the northern reaches of the Everglades.
The Sugarland Wind project could produce 200 mega watts of electricity, enough to power 65,000 South Florida homes.
That’s enough to potentially offset the production of 320,000 tons of carbon emissions a year that come from producing the same amount of electricity at fossil-fuel-driven power plants.
“It’s clean energy. There are no emissions. There’s no carbon footprint. No solid waste. There’s no water usage,” Saiz said. “It’s the cheapest form of renewable energy in Florida.”
Wind farm consultants conducted a year-long study of bird populations but have yet to provide an estimate of how many birds would be killed.
Project backers expect the mortality totals to be close to the national average of three to four bird deaths per tower per year, Saiz said. That could be nearly 500 birds killed per year at Sugarland Wind.
But environmental groups contend that estimate is way too low for a site near the Everglades, which is a haven for wading birds, birds of prey and water fowl.
Three to four birds per tower per year may not sound like a lot, but if each tower kills three to four endangered Everglades snail kites each year, that could wipe out the snail kite population within one or two years, said Drew Martin of the Sierra Club.
The environmental groups want a three-year study of potential bird effects. They also have called for building a few test turbines to try to get a more accurate estimate.
But the company has opted to press forward with development plans filed in December that go before the Palm Beach County Commission in March.
“It’s a shame. We want to see alternative energy,” Martin said. “We just don’t want to see something happen that is going to destroy the whole purpose of the Everglades.”
|Wind Watch relies entirely
on User Funding