It was all just a mistake, according to a senior Florida Power & Light Co. official this week.
Tim Fitzpatrick, FPL’s vice president of marketing and communications was referring to a PR gaffe made last week by a fellow VP from FPL’s wind power subsidiary, NextEra Energy Resources.
Mike O’Sullivan of NextEra was speaking to a Palm Beach Post reporter last week about a proposed wind farm a competitor wants to build near Belle Glade.
“If wind made sense in Florida, wouldn’t we be proposing wind ourselves?” O’Sullivan said of the $350 million Sugarland Wind proposal to site 114 turbines on 13,000 acres of farmland east of Belle Glade near Lake Okeechobee.
Excuse us over here on the right-hand coast, Mr. O’Sullivan, but your company says it’s been committed to pursuing wind projects in our neck of the woods since 2008.
If wind’s such a waste of time, why is FPL officially still looking at putting turbines near its St. Lucie Nuclear Plant or on farmland in the western reaches of the county?
Or has the giant utility finally come around to agreeing with what a lot of people here and at the U.S. Department of Energy have been saying for years. There’s barely enough wind to turn a turbine blade near the beach, yet alone inland.
However, the backers of the Sugarland project, St. Louis-based Wind Capital Group, obviously think they know something the rest of us have missed.
“Wind resources here are on par with those in several other states that have wind farms, such as Arizona,” according to Robin Saiz, Wind Capital’s project director. “We are seeing some lake effect there and some sea breezes.”
Sea breezes in Belle Glade? Maybe there’s more hot air around than we thought.
O’Sullivan’s comments were, of course, at odds with what FPL has been telling us for four years.
The utility toyed with the idea of siting six 400-foot-tall wind turbines in a variety of beach settings on our coast, finally settling on using land at its Hutchinson Island nuclear plant.
Residents and environmentalists were outraged.
Not only would the giant turbines look ugly and intrusive, dozens of objectors argued, the blades (each equivalent to the wingspan of a jumbo jet) could cause havoc to migrating birds and other animals.
Why, the vibration from all that whirling machinery might even imperil the spawning of the spotted sea-trout, one passionate environmentalist said.
Yet four years later, FPL’s application to build the turbines seems stalled. The company balked at paying for an independent impact study requested by St. Lucie County officials. It has never gone before a full county commission and nothing has happened since.
However, in August last year the company was given the go-ahead to erect 200-foot towers to test wind strength on land in the far west of the county – presumably well away from objecting condo dwellers.
Nothing’s happened there either.
So, has FPL altered its policy stance on wind power here? Not so, according to FPL.
“With respect to the St. Lucie wind project, nothing has changed in terms of the specific status of the project. The original application is still pending and, in the meantime, we received permission to evaluate wind potential in the western part of St. Lucie County. We will decide how to proceed once the status of federal and state renewable policy is more clear,” FPL said in a written statement this week.
Fitzpatrick was a little more forthright while visiting the Scripps Treasure Coast Newpapers editorial board this week.
O’Sullivan may know a lot about wind power, but obviously lacks experience with it in Florida, Fitzpatrick suggested tactfully.
The company will continue to explore alternative energy policies – including solar energy – where they make economic sense, FPL said, noting that a drop in the price of solar photovoltaic cells since 2008 made the company lean more in the direction of solar energy.
It seems clear, from the company’s statement this week, that the number of tax breaks FPL can amass will be the main driver of their alternative energy policy in the future. No change there either; that’s always been the case.
In the meantime, spawning spotted sea-trout everywhere want to know exactly when they can stop trembling in trepidation.
Anthony Westbury is a columnist for Scripps Treasure Coast Newspapers. This column reflects his opinion.
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