LGLA Members Briefed On Sugarland Wind Project

At the Loxahatchee Groves Landowners’ Association meeting Thursday, April 26, Robin Saiz of Wind Capital Group gave a presentation on the Sugarland Wind project, a 200-megawatt wind farm planned just east of Belle Glade.

Wind Capital Group started out as a small wind development company in 2005.

“At that time, the company developed wind farms in the Midwest to be sold to other companies,” Saiz said. “In 2008, they decided to change the business model and grow the company and become a full-service wind development company. Now we develop, build, own and operate.”

The company’s first wind farm built under that business model opened in Missouri. “It’s a 150-megawatt wind farm, which is enough power for about 45,000 homes,” Saiz said. “It’s been up and running since May of last year, and it’s a very successful project.”

The western Palm Beach County wind farm will be the company’s fourth.

The 200-megawatt wind farm will power about 65,000 homes, using between 114 and 124 wind turbines spread over 13,000 acres of mostly sugarcane and some row crops. Seven landowners are participating in the lease.

Wind towers will be spaced between a quarter- and a half-mile apart, and the base of each turbine will take up less than a quarter-acre of land. Only about 30 acres will be taken out of production.

“You can farm up to within about 20 feet of the base of the turbine,” Saiz explained. “The diameter at the base of that thing is about 18 feet. Underneath the ground you’ve got tons of concrete and rebar. You’re looking at 40 to 60 trucks of concrete for the base of each one of these things.”

The company plans to hire local contractors to build the foundations. “It’s a lot of money going into local neighborhoods,” Saiz said.

The towers will be about 250 feet tall, with the blades’ bottoms coming within about 120 feet of the ground. Wind Capital Group is negotiating with three different vendors for the turbines — GE, Siemens and Vestas. “They’re in bidding wars to see who gets the project,” Saiz said.

All the electricity generated will be collected underground and come together at one substation. The power will go into Florida Power & Light’s grid system, but FPL more than likely will not be the actual buyer of the power.

“They are not required to buy the power, but because they are a federally regulated utility, they have to accept the power,” Saiz said. “We do a transmission study with them and an interconnection agreement, and then it goes into the grid.”

The primary concern raised with wind power projects, such as this one, is its effect on bird populations.

Saiz said the towers are designed so birds cannot perch on them. Avian studies are underway regarding migratory patterns. “We developed a strategy here that is the Cadillac of all avian studies,” he said. “We’ve had avian ornithologists out there, two of the best in the state… conducting studies for 74 continuous weeks, studying not only what species we see, how many there are and, most importantly, their behavior.”

Through the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service, Wind Capital Group met at the Arthur R. Marshall Loxahatchee National Wildlife Refuge with a number of organizations, including the Audubon Society, 1,000 Friends of Florida and the Sierra Club, giving a presentation on what the study would cover and asked for feedback.

Saiz said the Sugarland project will use a radar bird detection system designed originally for jets. With new turbine technology, individual turbine blades can be stopped if radar detects birds flying through.

“This radar will shut down parts of the farm when you have birds coming through,” he explained. “We took the advice that we were given, and we incorporated that into our study plan.”

The wind farm will also be equipped with a bat detection system.

Saiz said that the yearlong study has been criticized because it allegedly did not take into account yearly variability of rainfall and drought, so they consulted with researchers from the University of Florida who have been doing studies in the Everglades since 2004. Their data covers all seasons, he said, and concentrated on wood storks and snail kites.

Our company has been studying the wind there since December 2009. “We know when it’s blowing and when it’s not,” he said. “What we have here in Florida is a daytime wind,” he said. “We’re 36 miles inland, but we still catch sea breezes [and] lake-effect breezes from Lake Okeechobee. With our site there, we get wind that starts about 9:30 in the morning, so we catch the tail end of the morning peak, but we catch full on the evening peak of the demand for power because our wind does not shut off until about 8:30 at night.”

Wind is also seasonal in the area. “In summer months, the wind falls off the page,” Saiz said. “That’s when we will be able to do our maintenance. That lines up with wood storks very well. The months of July, August and early September, when farmers have flooded their fields and they‘re starting to draw the water off, we’ve got a very concentrated food source. That’s when the wood storks come.”

The project will cost between $350 million and $400 million, he said. It will offset 320,000 tons of carbon dioxide a year that would be produced by a modern gas-fired electric generator, he said, adding that wind farms also use no water.

Asked how the turbines stand up in hurricanes, Saiz answered that they can be shut down and the blades secured. “It’s an insurable risk,” he said. “The turbine vendors will warranty up to 133 miles an hour sustained winds, and then there’s after-market insurance that will warranty them after that.”

Turbines similar to the ones that will be used at Sugarland went through major hurricanes Ivan and Dean in the Caribbean, he said. “There was no damage to the turbines from direct hits from both those hurricanes,” Saiz said.

The turbines are activated when wind speed exceeds 5 mph and shut down at 55 mph, spinning at a controlled speed of 18 to 20 rpm.

The Palm Beach County Commission has approved permitting of the project with the condition that it put in a bird detection radar system.

The next hurdle in permitting is the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. That application will be submitted by May 15, and evaluation takes at least a year.

“Let’s say everything, the moon and the stars line up, we get through that next June, 90 days to pull building permits, we start construction late summer, early fall of 2013. Then we can build this in six to 10 months,” he said.

For more information, visit www.sugarlandwind.com.