In Florida, where everybody but the government knows that wind power is not a viable source of energy, FPL has been “convinced” to sink lots of dollars into a wind power project that everybody knows will fail.
From the Miami Herald:
FPL Energy is ”one of the most efficient wind operators in the country,” says Jay Apt, executive director of the Carnegie Mellon Electricity Industry Center. “They’re very good at it.”
FPL Energy has 55 wind farms in 16 states including the nation’s largest, the 735-megawatt Horse Hollow field in Texas. Last week, it announced a new $2 billion wind farm to be spread over 250 square miles in North Dakota.
The company has mounds of data about the costs of producing wind power in different places, but it refuses to reveal any of it. When The Miami Herald asked FPL about costs, it replied crisply: “Wind is proportionally less expensive where the resource is more abundant.”
Wind was not FPL’s first choice for diversifying its power sources in Florida. Last year, the utility tried hard to get approval to build a new coal plant. Gov. Crist didn’t like the idea. On June 5, 2007, regulators flatly rejected the 1,960-megawatt coal plant.
BOWING TO PRESSURE
Two days later, the utility announced it understood which way the political winds were blowing and said it planned to construct the first wind farm in Florida. ”This is a great first step in seeking more renewable generation resources in Florida,” said FPL President Armando Olivera.
”I am very pleased,” Crist responded.
”I’m thrilled,” said a representative of the Southern Alliance for Clean Energy.
Buried in the press release was a statement reiterating FPL’s longtime position: “While wind in Florida is not consistently strong and reliable enough to produce a large amount of electricity, FPL will explore ways to best use this resource.”
Several months later, in a little-noticed filing with the Public Service Commission, the utility was unusually blunt about how poorly it viewed Florida’s winds when the PSC staff asked why FPL wasn’t doing more with wind, when wind power was so much cheaper than solar. That seems particularly true in Florida because experts say solar here produces considerably less energy than in the American Southwest, where solar is thriving.
FPL responded that the noted cost difference between wind and solar in Florida ”may not necessarily be the case.” The utility said it could be expensive to buy wind turbines designed to withstand hurricanes. It noted that even offshore, wind often does not have the strength for a viable wind project “and is reduced on the coast and further reduced inland.”
What’s more, the utility had a study showing “wind resource limited to winter seasons (October through March) whereas FPL load peak is in the summer.”
FPL answered Miami Herald questions by e-mail: “Wind power is a vital part of any serious effort to address global climate change. . . . The St. Lucie site has wind speeds high enough to generate ample electricity with zero greenhouse gas emissions.”
FPL and experts agree that to generate wind power in Florida, the turbines have to be on the coast, and that’s what the utility proposed at St. Lucie.
At first, some of the nine turbines in the $60 million, 20-megawatt project were planned for FPL-owned oceanfront land on Hutchinson Island, where it has nuclear reactors. Others would be on nearby oceanfront public park land. The plan drew howls of protest from environmentalists and other local residents.
In February, even though the project still lacked zoning approval, the state Department of Environmental Protection announced it would help fund the wind project by giving $2.5 million to FPL, which had a profit of $836 million last year.
As opposition continued over use of public land, FPL scaled back the project in March to six turbines, all on FPL’s own property. Environmental and neighborhood groups remain adamantly opposed. ”This is like building a solar farm in a rain forest,” said Zahniser of the Save St. Lucie Alliance. “And there are 36 endangered species at that site. . . . We see this as ruining precious resources in Florida for absolutely no benefit.”
Three months have gone by. The county commission has yet to approve the project. ”We hope the St. Lucie wind project gets a fair hearing,” FPL said in an e-mail.
The utility has kept up the pressure. It conducted a survey showing that four out of five St. Lucie residents favor the project. Critics said the phrasing of the questions misled people.
The utility notes that this is a small project. “The roughly $45 million total cost of the project works out to about 33 cents a year for the average FPL customer, or less than the price of a postage stamp.”
”It’s political,” insists Zahniser. “Do you know how many light bulbs you can swap out with new energy-efficient light bulbs for $45 million? This is a false green scam that diverts valuable time and resources away from true solutions.”
In April, FPL released a study conducted by a sister company, WindLogics, that said FPL’s St. Lucie project had a ”capacity factor” to power turbines at about 20 percent of their rated power. Apt at Carnegie Melon contrasts that with North Dakota, where turbines work at almost 50 percent capacity.
Based on those numbers, Apt calculates North Dakota wind power has an unsubsidized cost of 6.5 cents/kwh, compared to about 15 cents/kwh in St. Lucie.
Thresher of the National Wind Technology Center describes the state’s challenges this way: ”Florida’s flat and low. . . . And it’s at a latitude that rarely gets strong winds.” He thinks the St. Lucie location might be “marginally cost effective . . . but Florida is not a good regime for wind. It’s a little better offshore.”
Offshore power is widespread in Europe, but it needs good winds to justify the extra expense of building and anchoring turbines in the water, which raises the cost by ”50 percent or more,” said Thresher. In Europe, that expense means builders are developing turbines with blades 200 feet long — “That’s a beast, and they’re working on ones that are a lot bigger.”
FPL dodged several questions about the feasibility, cost and strength of offshore turbines. ”We are not proposing any offshore wind projects in Florida at the moment,” the company said.
FPL knows it won’t work. The people that live here know it won’t work. Apparently the Florida government believes it can make the wind blow. Perhaps the wind turbines need to be placed in Tallahassee.
If you want to read the scary part of the article, though, read this:
But Thresher and many others know what will really elevate wind projects is action by Congress, expected to come after the November elections, when power plants belching greenhouse gases will be forced to pay stiff penalties
Under that scenario, a study by Black & Veatch consultants shows that the cost of wind power will remain steady while the cost of coal and natural gas could climb steadily until they are almost twice as expensive.
Isn’t that cute? It sounds as though the evil power plants are going to be penalized, leaving the consumers to pay their normal rates. Not so. The consumers are the ones that are going to see their electric bills more than double, particularly since there isn’t a quick fix on the horizon. Power plants have been denied permission to build new plants using nuclear energy for years, and are being forced to provide power using inefficient power sources. Your power costs are going to go WAY up. So are manufacturers’ power costs and to be cost competitive, the ones that haven’t already relocated will.
Look into how your congressional representatives votes. Do not elect them if they vote for things that will negatively effect your standard of living.