General and Florida
Florida Power & Light Co.'s proposal to put wind turbines on public conservation land within the county is simple: It's illegal.
That's the message St. Lucie County Commissioner Doug Coward told a crowd of more than 100 people Monday afternoon during a meeting at Ocean Village.
FPL wants to put nine wind turbines on the island, including six on property it owns and three on Blind Creek Park - state-owned environmentally sensitive land leased by the county. In 1994, St. Lucie County voters agreed by referendum to pay additional taxes so the county could acquire environmentally significant land for recreation and the protection of wildlife habitat. Coward read the ballot language to residents, which he called clear and unambiguous. ...Coward encouraged residents to show up in full force Tuesday to voice their concerns to the County Commission. One woman in the audience asked residents to wear red T-shirts to the meeting.
Now the state's largest public utility, Florida Power & Light, has proposed building a line of nine wind turbines along an Atlantic Ocean beach in St. Lucie County. But three of those turbines would be built on publicly owned land bought for conservation purposes, which has led to considerable opposition.
Eric Silagy from FP&L went before St. Lucie County commissioners last week to extol the virtues of the company's plan.
But there is virtually no popular support among members of the St. Lucie County community. And certainly not by environmentalists.
County commissioners expressed support Tuesday for bringing wind turbines to Hutchinson Island, but were divided over whether to put them on public land.
Florida Power & Light Co. has proposed up to nine turbines, which would be the first of their kind in the state, at several different locations on the island. Four would be on public land and the other five would be located at the St. Lucie Nuclear Plant, the first on the grounds of a nuclear plant site in the United States.
County Administrator Doug Anderson and Commission Chairman Joe Smith, along with a videographer, will travel to Abilene, Texas, next week to view Florida Power & Light's Horse Hollow Wind Energy Centers, which have more than 400 wind turbines on almost 60,000 acres in two counties. Other commissioners have not committed to going, but may still join the trip, according to a county spokesman.
FPL's proposal to put nine wind turbines on Hutchinson Island in St. Lucie County - four potentially on public land - has been a divisive issue. Those against the project protested during a tour of the possible sites in December and have been vocal in meetings and in letters and e-mails to county commissioners.
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More than 1300 miles from home, standing in a cow pasture outside Abilene, Texas, Doug Anderson goes in search of windmills. This field trip is a bit of a departure for Anderson, who works as St. Lucie County's administrator.
"We went out there to report back to the folks in the local community and come back with a factual report, and unbiased report," he says. ...Of course while windmills may work in the pastures of West Texas, Anderson admits the beaches of South Florida present a very different picture.
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The county's Planning and Zoning Board unanimously recommended Thursday that county commissioners pass a rule letting people put up 200-foot meteorological towers on land designated as Agricultural-5.
Since FPL proposed the wind farm last summer, fierce grass-roots opposition has arisen.
"The more I learn, the more I question whether wind energy makes sense anywhere in Florida," said St. Lucie County Commissioner Doug Coward. "I'm sure other local governments will go through the same learning curve." ...Calling the wind proposal a "feel-good project" designed to oblige [FL Governor] Crist, Eric Draper, policy director of Audubon of Florida, said the awareness it has generated will doom wind energy anywhere in Florida.
"The wind is on the coast, where you only have environmentally sensitive land, and people who want to live by it or use it for recreation," Draper said. "They are not going to want to see these facilities on their beaches."
St. Lucie County Commission Chairman Joe Smith climbed, looked at and listened to windmills in Texas on Wednesday and said afterward, "nothing I saw made me nervous." ...He compared the noise to the sound of an airplane flying overhead. But the sound isn't loud enough to prevent conversation.
"Standing at the base, there was a hum from the windmill," he said. "When the wind blows, you hear it more than the hum."
The wind was blowing 8 miles per hour, so he couldn't tell if they're noisier at higher wind speeds.
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Florida Power & Light, the nation's largest provider of wind energy, says placing nine of these behemoths across from its St. Lucie Nuclear Power Plant -- three on beachfront state conservation land and six on property the company owns -- would power 3,000 homes. And the company thinks the sight of the giant turbines would stimulate demand for similar wind farms across the state by a citizenry eager to do its part to halt global warming.
But the $61 million project, awarded a $2.5 million state grant, is generating far more heat than light, and prospects for its survival appear dim.
Since FPL unveiled the proposal last summer, it has given rise to fierce grass-roots opposition -- and raised serious doubts about the feasibility of wind energy in the Sunshine State.
While Florida Power & Light Co. is moving forward with plans to bring wind turbines to St. Lucie County, a group of residents is trying to spread information about the controversial project.
The 3-month-old grass-roots group, Save St. Lucie Alliance, says it wants to get accurate information out to residents. On Saturday, about 40 residents attended a meeting at the Fort Pierce Community Center, where Brad Jones from Naples, N.Y., presented his findings and perspectives. ...FPL picked St. Lucie County for the project because it has a plant in the county, there is open land on the coast, and the commission has been supportive of alternative energy.
However, after Saturday's informational meeting, County Commissioner Doug Coward said as he learns more, he's becoming more skeptical about the project.
FPL reportedly kept about $1 million to administer the program, and passed the rest along to a subcontractor, Texas-based Green Mountain Energy, to manage it.
"We're going to take a close look at how the money was spent," commission spokeswoman Cindy Muir said Thursday.
More than 38,000 customers voluntarily contributed to the program for nearly five years. Participating FPL residential and commercial customers made $9.75 monthly contributions to promote the development of renewable energy.
The environmentally conscious customers who gave Florida Power & Light $11.4 million for green energy did not get their money's worth, according to a state report released Monday.
The critical 19-page recommendation from the staff of Florida's Public Service Commission found widespread problems with the Sunshine Energy Program, from "highly excessive" administrative and marketing costs to millions of dollars spent on renewable energy development outside Florida.
"If the Sunshine Energy Program is to continue, the program must be redesigned to address state renewable energy policies and to better serve the interest of the program's participants," the report found.
State regulators Tuesday terminated a Florida Power & Light voluntary green energy program because three-fourths of the money customers were donating went to marketing and administrative costs.
By a unanimous vote, the Public Service Commission ended FPL's Sunshine Energy Program in which 39,000 customers have voluntarily added $9.75 to their monthly electric bill so that FPL could purchase renewable energy.
FPL in turn contracted with a Texas company, Green Mountain Energy, to carry out the program. PSC staff have been trying for months to find out where the money went, but all it could learn was that 24 percent was going to purchase renewable energy. ...[Commissioner Nathan] Skop said the program was "a lot of marketing hype but very little of substance.''
Florida Power & Light Co.'s proposal to put six wind turbines on company-owned property near the St. Lucie Nuclear Plant might affect several threatened species of wildlife, according to a recently released analysis by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.
According to the findings, FPL's proposal would have "a substantial adverse impact" on federally managed fisheries in the south Atlantic region and wetlands, the report states.
Two weeks after scaling back a plan to put wind turbines on Hutchinson Island, Florida Power & Light Co. officials released a survey Wednesday attesting to what they say is broad support across St. Lucie County for the more modest proposal.
But wind turbine opponents questioned the survey results, with some claiming that the timing of their release was a sign that public opinion might be turning against the power company's $45 million plan to build the first wind farm in the southeastern United States. ..."It's unlikely FPL would have taken this step had public opinion been running their way," Linowes wrote in an e-mail to opponents of the FPL plan.
For example, Linowes said, a proposal to put wind turbines on public land in Maryland met strong opposition. After public hearings, the company pitching the turbines released a public opinion poll.
As Florida Power & Light Co. gets closer to a public hearing on its wind turbine plan, skeptics of the project have plenty of questions left unanswered.
What about the effect on birds? Or sea turtles? And why put turbines in St. Lucie County in the first place? Nick Blount, external affairs manager for FPL on the Treasure Coast, tried to answer some of those questions from about 20 members of the St. Lucie County Conservation Alliance on Wednesday night and promised to try to find answers to others raised by residents.
"I respect people's opinion about our wind project, but what I do want to do is tell our side of the story," Blount said. "That's what we want."
Florida Power & Light's sister company is the biggest producer of wind power in the country, but the utility can't seem to get a wind project off the ground in its home state.
FPL's proposal to build a wind farm on a barrier island in St. Lucie County has languished in the halls of county government since it was filed in 2007.
Nearby residents have called the 400-foot-tall turbines eyesores and questioned their impact on Hutchinson Island's shoreline.
FPL wants to build six turbines at Hutchinson Island, where it operates a pair of nuclear generators on waterfront property. Some of the turbines would be on FPL's property and the rest on an adjacent county-owned park, if the county approves. ...According to FPL, though, the Sunshine State and most of the Southeast don't have sustained winds that are strong enough to generate electricity except within a half-mile of the Atlantic and Gulf coasts from North Carolina to Texas. A fact sheet from subsidiary FPL Energy LLC shows average winds range between 11.5 and 14.3 mph along the coasts, but drop to less than 12.5 mph everywhere else in the southeastern states.
NEW YORK - Companies investing in renewable energy may begin asking a familiar question following FPL Group Inc.'s second-quarter results: What happens when the wind doesn't blow or the sun doesn't shine?
Though the utility company's earnings rose 72 percent to $405 million, and analysts are still saying "Buy," according to Thomson Financial's consensus estimates, FPL faced the worst weather conditions in 13 years for its wind-energy division. The wind factor cut FPL's profit by $50 million.
"The only real negative in the quarter was the poor wind resource," said FPL Chief Financial Officer Moray Dewhurst during a conference call.