Threats to birds didn’t stop state regulators from approving an energy-producing wind farm – with towering, whirling blades – planned for Palm Beach County sugar cane fields.
The Sugarland Wind proposal calls for building at least 114 wind-catching, Statue of Liberty-sized turbines that would be spread across 13,000 acres of farmland in western Palm Beach County.
Environmental groups have objected to the proposed location of the turbines, saying they pose too much of a risk to birds migrating through the Everglades. That includes endangered wood storks and Everglades snail kites.
Despite concerns about the risk to birds, the Florida Department of Environmental Protection this month approved a state environmental permit needed for the project.
The state permit is contingent on Sugarland Wind completing a bird and bat protection plan before construction, said Benny Luedike, DEP environmental manager who handled the wind farm permit.
After getting the state’s OK, the wind farm still needs approval from the Army Corps of Engineers to proceed.
Audubon of Florida has “serious concerns” about the wind farm proposal. State regulators should have waited to hear what the federal government has to say before issuing a permit, said Jane Graham, Audubon’s Everglades policy associate.
“We were just really shocked and surprised at this,” Graham said about Sugarland Wind getting its state permit. “DEP jumped the gun.”
The Sierra Club also objects to the wind farm.
“We are very concerned. We don’t think that it’s a good location because of the threat to endangered birds,” said Drew Martin of the Sierra Club.
Wind farm supporters contend that it will bring much-needed construction jobs to Glades communities while also delivering a “green” energy alternative to polluting fossil fuels
The 500-foot-tall turbines would produce 200 megawatts of electricity that would be sold to Florida energy providers. They could produce enough power for 60,000 South Florida homes, according to the proposal.
Sugarland Wind backers last year projected that each turbines would kill three to four birds per year; totaling nearly 500 birds per year.
Environmental advocates contend those bird-kill estimates are too low for an area within 3 miles of the Loxahatchee National Wildlife Refuge – the northern reaches of the Everglades.
Representatives for Sugarland Wind couldn’t be reached for comment despite several attempts by phone and email.
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