Wind energy in Florida: first wind farm

Late last week the Florida legislature passed a bill which will open the doors for tax credits for alternative energy development. This could be good news for a proposed wind farm in South Florida near the Everglades.

Supporters say the wind power project could provide jobs along with clean energy. The wind energy installation has more than one hundred wind turbines.

There are no wind farms in Florida, yet but now there’s a proposal to build the first one near the tri-city communities surrounding Lake Okeechobee.

The gigantic wind turbines would stand nearly as tall as the Washington Monument. The blades, nearly half the length of a football field will stretch across more than 10,000 acres of farmland. In a state where tourism is king, will this wind farm become and eyesore or eye-candy on the horizon?

Kendra Snow, a real estate agent in Belle Glade, says it boils down to one issue. “Anything that will be bring job to the Glades we’re interested in”

At a local diner, I sipped tea with Mayor JP Sasser, who was born and raised a stone’s throw away, in neighboring Pahokee. He’s not thrilled when outsiders, like the Sierra Club tell him what his town needs.

“I’ve got citizens that need jobs and clothes on their backs and health insurance and everything else so birds don’t’ make my top ten lists.” Mayor Sasser said.

He believes the giant rotations of the blades across the skyline will inspire tourism. “Here in the Glades, the land is perfectly flat so all of them will be on the same level and they will be able to do somewhat of a geometric pattern.” He said. “I’m looking forward to bringing tourists here.”

It’s not a far-fetched idea. Peter Kelly, Vice President of Public Affairs for the American Wind Energy Association says across the country, people pay for a view or a tour of a wind farm.

“Interestingly enough, Atlantic City, New Jersey hired a pollster to ask tourists if they would they like to see these turbines.” Kelly said. “And they said yes make them closer so we can see them and already the five turbines in Atlantic City are the source of requests for hotel rooms on the side that faces the turbines.”

Boosters say more tourism in the glades area would be a God-send. This area, which is world famous for its sweet corn and sugar cane is also known for its historic poverty.

It was the featured locale for Edward R Murrow’s “Harvest of Shame” documentary in the l960’s.

These days, unemployment hovers just below half the population. More and more farm labor is replaced by mechanization.

Sugarland Wind Farm officials say there’ll be hundreds of temporary jobs and about a dozen when the farm is up and running.

Eric Hopkins, along with several other farmers, leased large portions of their farmland fpr the project. Before he made up his mind, he went to Missouri to see a wind farm for himself.

“I was quite impressed that the wind farm was nice, fit into the farming community and they’re not an ugly thing, they’re actually sort of pretty.” Hopkins said.

Whether this wind farm breaks ground depends on money and more federal approval. Congress also needs to renew a wind tax credit that expires by the end of the year.

Without it, analysts say, most wind farms will fail or have to scale back.

But that won’t happen to the Sugarland project says it’s director, Robin Saiz.

“Those other wind farms you read about are in markets where there are a lot of wind farms and the market is saturated.” Saiz said. "By this being the first wind farm here, we have a little bit of a first mover advantage.”