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Facing a choice between renewable energy and more bird deaths, Palm Beach County commissioners will decide today whether to approve plans for Florida’s first wind farm on farm land near Belle Glade. Commissioners should move the project along but require more study of the proposed turbines’ effect on endangered species and insist that the wind farm track and mitigate bird deaths.
The project calls for more than 100 wind turbines, standing 500 feet tall, on 12,000 acres of farmland. The turbines, which St. Louis-based Wind Capital Group would build and own, would generate enough electricity to power roughly 60,000 homes. The company then would sell the power.
The project’s immediate economic benefits are small. The wind farm would create less than two dozen permanent local jobs, and would primarily generate revenue for the state through sales taxes on energy sales. But the larger benefits of renewable energy that does not consume fossil fuels or water are manifold.
Conservation groups such as Audubon of Florida are rightly concerned about the potential effect of these turbines on bird populations, particularly endangered species such as the wood stork and Everglades snail kite. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service shares some of those worries, and argues that it needs “at least three years of pre-construction baseline data” before being able to sufficiently assess the turbines’ impact.
Fortunately, there is time for more study because two regulatory agencies, the state Department of Environmental Protection and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, need to approve the turbines before they can be built. With additional time, both agencies will be better positioned to weigh the project’s impact on birds against the merits of green energy.
As long as the inevitable bird deaths do not do unacceptable harm to endangered bird populations or migratory patterns, the project will likely be a good one, and may encourage further investment in clean power. The turbines’ potential risks should not be understated, but neither should the global importance of encouraging the production of renewable energy.
– Andrew Marra,
for The Palm Beach Post Editorial Board
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