St. Lucie County balks at proposed wind farm

02/20/08 Mitch E. Perry
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Since taking office over a year ago, Florida Gov. Charlie Crist has become a leader in trying to reduce the state’s use of greenhouse gases.

In his new proposed budget, he is "encouraging" the state Legislature to invest $50-million in solar, wind and other renewable energies, much to the delight of environmentalists.

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.

Much of that has to do with the fact that three of nine turbines FP&L wants to install are on state-owned environmentally sensitive land called Blind Creek Park. In 1994, St. Lucie voters agreed to additional taxes so the county could purchase the land for conservation purposes.

Some of the biggest environmental groups in the state have registered their disapproval with the plan, saying it will kill birds and be unattractive.

A similar battle has gone on for years in Massachusetts Cape Cod area, against a proposed wind turbine farm. But St. Lucie County Commissioner Doug Coward says the energy that would be derived from the wind turbines simply won’t adequately provide that much power – if it could even work.

Citizens in the area also say they haven’t been given straight answers from FP&L, the state’s largest public utility company.

Both the St. Lucie County Commission and the state Lands Committee need to give approval before the project can go forward. County Commissioners put the issue on their agenda last week when it appeared that the state was going to vote on it.

Ericka D'Avanzo is the Florida regional manager of the Surfrider Foundation, which helped organize opposition to the proposal. She says the power company has failed to present a clear package to the community.

WMNF contact Florida Power & Light on Tuesday to get more information about the wind farm proposal. We were informed we would get a response for some specific questions, but then late in the day were told: "At this time, there's really nothing new to report on the project."

Regarding using the environmentally sensitive land, FP&L official Eric Silagy said last week his company was willing to purchase other land to give to the county for those purposes.

Those who spoke out against the plan last week were skeptical of that tradeoff.

With Florida’s population expected to grow, Florida will need more sources of energy. Environmentalists have argued that those sources should be clean, free of greenhouse gas emissions that contribute to climate change.

Upon learning of the opposition to the wind farm, one local environmentalist criticized the immediate rejection of it, telling colleagues in an e-mail: “Shouldn’t we just back off on this one ... In my humble opinion, we are looking like a bunch of clowns.”

But when contacted by WMNF, the official, who works for the Sierra Club, said he was not authorized to speak about the issue.

D'Avanzo from the Surfrider Foundation says simply many people don’t believe that FP&L is sincere, going back two years to a previous request for a plant.

And Commissioner Coward says the state needs to move forward on alternative sources of energy; but he isn’t sure that state officials have thought clearly enough on how to go about it.

Discussions about the wind farm are expected to continue for months.

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