A brochure landing in thousands of Palm Beach County residents’ mailboxes shows photos of a house cat, a car, an office building and a wind turbine. Which one doesn’t belong with the others?” it asks.
It’s not an IQ test, just part of a public relations campaign by Wind Capital Group in St. Louis, which wants to build Sugarland Wind, a project that would include 114 500-foot tall wind turbines on 13,000 acres of farmland east of Belle Glade in Palm Beach County’s Everglades Agricultural Area. If approved, the wind farm could provide enough electricity to power as many as 60,000 homes.
The brochure argues that cats, automobiles and office buildings all have a greater impact on bird populations than do wind turbines.
On average, three birds collide with a single wind turbine each year, the brochure states. For Sugarland, that would translate to 342 dead birds.
Audubon, the Sierra Club and other groups that oppose the project say the impact on birds and bats isn’t known because there are no wind turbines in Florida.
However, they believe the number of birds killed most likely would be higher than what’s shown in the mailer. The area between Lake Okeechobee and the Loxahatchee wildlife refuge is part of a migratory flyway for millions of birds that seasonally move along Atlantic coastal corridors.
Palm Beach County zoning commissioners approved the wind farm March 2, and the county commission is scheduled to vote on it March 22. U.S. Army Corps of Engineers approval also is needed.
There is already opposition. The U.S. Department of the Interior’s Fish and Wildlife Service said in a review of the project that it encouraged Wind Capital Group to consider alternate locations to explore wind energy in the Southeast. The department said its concerns include the impact on the endangered Everglades snail kite, the wood stork, the Northern crested caracara, the bald eagle and on all federally protected migratory bird species in the EAA.
Paul Gray, science coordinator at Audubon of Florida, said that a National Academy of Sciences review of various studies found the national average is 4.27 bird deaths per turbine per year. That review found that the eastern U.S. had a higher mortality rate of 5.87 birds per turbine.
“We probably have more large, slow-flying birds, especially wading birds and raptors, than anywhere in the nation, and more listed bird species, too. Plus, the Florida peninsula is a major migratory route that funnels birds through its relatively narrow corridor, creating concentrations of birds unlike most other areas of the country. Thus, results elsewhere may be poor predictors of impacts here,” Gray said.
Robin Saiz, Wind Capital’s project development manager, said the company has more than a year’s worth of data on birds in the EAA and is collecting more information to determine how to protect birds.
“We have a demand for energy in the state. Fossil fuels are dirty and bad for birds. We can make a choice to go with wind to help offset that. Wind uses no water and produces no carbon emissions,” Saiz said.
Geoffrey West, Wind Capital’s environmental manager, said the site has everything needed for a successful wind farm, including a market, transmission lines and wind.
“The mailer boils down our energy choices. Any choices we do, driving a car, working in a building with glass, owning cats, all of our choices have impacts from cradle to grave. We were showing that wind energy is the most benign to wildlife when you compare it to other generation sources,” West said.
In 2010, hunters killed 27,700 ducks in a 20,000-acre area of the Glades, more bird deaths than the wind farm is projected to cause over the life of the project, West said.
Drew Martin, conservation chair of the Sierra Club in Loxahatchee, agreed an estimate of three birds per year per turbine seems “preposterously low.”
“Birds are in the air every day, and turbines are operating every day. If a 195-mile-per-hour turbine hits the bird, there won’t be any evidence a bird is killed,” Martin said.
Kelly Fuller, spokeswoman for the American Bird Conservancy, said, “Sending brochures to people’s homes – that is much more of a fossil-fuel industry kind of tactic. There is reason to be concerned about this site. It seems questionable.”
Scheduled to go before the county commission on March 22, the project also must be approved by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.
A 200-megawatt $300 million to $350 million wind energy project proposed for western Palm Beach County.
To be located 7 miles east of Belle Glade on 13,000 acres of leased farmland.
Projected completion date of late 2013.
250 to 300 jobs during construction, 15 to 20 permanent jobs.
Electricity for up to 60,000 homes. Clean renewable energy that uses no water.