Florida’s first wind farm moves forward

The first wind farm in Florida has been approved by local officials, but its proximity to the Everglades has made it an unwelcome addition to the landscape.

The proposed Sugarland Wind project is a 200 MW wind farm located on farmland in Palm Beach County, Florida. The project will be situated completely within the Everglades Agricultural Area (EAA).

And that’s the problem, according to project opponents from the environmental community.

The County Commission decided on March 22 that the benefits of encouraging alternative energy production in a western part of the county, north of the Everglades, outweighed the threat to migratory birds.

The Missouri-based Wind Capital Group plans to build at least 114 wind turbines spread across 13,000 acres of farmland. The turbines would produce 200 MW of electricity that would be sold to Florida energy providers, according to Sugarland Wind.

Building plans call for making a $350 mn construction investment. Federal and state permits are still needed, which could take more than a year to complete.

Audubon Florida’s Everglades Policy Associate Jane Graham along with representatives from the Audubon of the Everglades Chapter urged caution and advocated for increased site-specific research to better determine the impacts to birds – before the project proceeds.

The project has been designed to utilize existing farm roads to the maximum extent possible. This project will use no water to generate or transmit electricity, will produce no air emissions and will require no fuel pipelines.

Local officials also see the project as an economic development opportunity. The developers said construction would create about 300 construction jobs.

The County Commission required Sugarland Wind to include bird-detecting radar or some other safeguard that can help avoid bird or bat deaths by turning off the spinning rotors when large numbers of birds or bats approach.

Aside from the environmental concerns, the largest wind farm operator in the country, Florida-based NextEra Energy Resources said the wind resource in the state is too weak to make wind energy economically viable.

Mike O’Sullivan, its senior vice president of development, told the Palm Beach Post that the Sunshine State lacks adequate resources. “If wind made sense in Florida, wouldn’t we be proposing wind here ourselves?” O’Sullivan said.

The company has about $13 billion in wind energy investments. NextEra Energy Resources, like Florida Power & Light Co., is a subsidiary of NextEra Energy (NYSE: NEE). It has 90 wind farms in 17 states and Canada, capable of producing nearly 8,750 MW.