“We know it’s a very expensive system but if Sugarland installed the system, then we would lead the charge to bring their wind farm ourselves, ” Horowitz said.
Sugarland has proposed something different — having section of the wind farm shut down during peak times for two months when birds flock to flooded areas.
“The farmers do crop rotation every three years and flood the fields and grow rice to kill the nematodes [roundworms]. That’s when we can curtail our operations” said Geoff West, Wind Capital Group Environmental Manager for the South East.
But that option doesn’t sit well with Audubon of Florida.
Nationally, the Audubon Club supports wind energy as a means to protect bird species from the threat of global warming. But the national organization doesn’t have a problem with local chapters going their own way on local projects.
For Audubon of Florida, the risk is not only about direct bird deaths but the impact the 114 turbines spread across the environmentally sensitive area in the Everglades would have on the nesting and migration patterns of threatened and endangered wildlife.
“If you draw a triangle around the proposed area for the wind farm, it will be right in between Lake Okeechobee, the Loxahatchee Wildlife Refuge and the Everglades. The truth is, bottom line, more data is needed,” said Jane Graham, Everglades Policy Advisor for Audubon of Florida.
Until recently, wind farm companies claimed Florida didn’t have enough strong, predictable, on-shore winds to warrant the investment. But turbine technology has become more efficient.
“We know the new generation of towers will absolutely withstand hurricanes and run efficiently. The problem is the massive turbine blades create a vacuum. The birds flying by can then be pulled into them,” Horowitz said.
The electricity produced from each wind turbine would travel through underground cables to a substation, where it would be boosted and hooked up to a transmission line and then to the Florida Power & Light electrical grid system serving the community.
How much power would it produce? Enough to supply 60,000 homes with clean and cheap energy, Sugarland says. Looming over nearly all wind farms in the country is a federal tax credit, which is scheduled to expire Dec. 31.
Known as the PTC (Production Tax Credit) it provides an income tax credit of 2.2 cents per kilowatt-hour for the first 10 years of electricity produced from utility-scale turbines. In the past, when the PTC wasn’t renewed, the construction of wind farms was dramatically curtailed.
Recently, President Obama urged Congress to extend the tax credits, saying that would save 37,000 jobs in the field of clean-energy production, an estimate that is based on reports from industry officials.
Some in the area see the wind farm as a potential economic boon. Backers say they anticipate their $300 million dollar investment will create 250 temporary positions and about two-dozen permanent jobs, something much needed in an area where nearly half the population is unemployed.
While environmentalist say those job numbers are relatively small in the grand scheme, that attitude has emboldened supporters of the project.
“I got citizens that need jobs and clothes on their backs and health insurance and everything else,” said Pahokee Mayor J.P. Sasser, “so birds don’t make my top ten lists.”