Tavares may try to get power from wind turbine

May 31, 2013 by  
Filed under Green Energy News

The most promising source of renewable energy in Florida has long been the sun, but Tavares officials say the Lake County city might be able to generate power with wind.

They want to try powering the city’s wastewater-treatment plant with a wind turbine, which would make Tavares the first city in Florida to invest in wind energy.

Although wind power hasn’t been considered a viable energy source in Florida, Tavares utilities director Brad Hayes said he’s willing to try unconventional ways to save residents money on their utilities bills. The city has spent about $29,000 on an experiment to assess whether a wind turbine would be cost-effective.

“Other wastewater-treatment plants in the country already have wind power at their disposal,” Hayes said. “Why not here? Why not take a look at this?”

The advantage Tavares has its location amid the Harris Chain of Lakes. Experts say there’s greater wind turbulence near lakes and the sea. That may be enough for Tavares, which bills itself as “America’s Seaplane City,” to make a wind project worthwhile.

Florida has no large-scale wind farm because utilities haven’t been convinced there’s enough wind to make an investment in turbines. Several companies in the wind business are based in Florida or manufacture turbines in the state, but there are only a few, privately owned wind turbines.

“Florida doesn’t have as great a wind resource as Kansas or west Texas,” said Mark Powell, an atmospheric scientist with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.

Still, there are signs of growing interest in wind energy in Florida. Florida Power Light had proposed installing six wind turbines on a barrier island in St. Lucie County. The project would have generated enough electricity for 3,500 customers, but the project is on hold and the company is focusing instead on solar energy, FPL spokeswoman Sara Gatewood said.

Wind Capital Group has proposed a large wind farm in Palm Beach County near Lake Okeechobee. The Sugarland Wind farm, a few miles from the northern reaches of the Everglades, could produce enough electricity to power 60,000 homes.

Environmental manager Geoff West said the company needs state and federal permits for the project, which would involve the installation of more than 100 turbines on former sugar-cane fields.

Wind power is becoming more feasible in Florida because turbines are improving, with longer blades situated on taller towers. That helps to generate more electricity at lower wind speeds, he said.

Tavares appears to be the only Florida city taking a serious look at wind energy, both West and Powell said.

With a population of nearly 14,000, Tavares has enjoyed a downtown renaissance since emphasizing seaplanes. Residents and visitors enjoy watching seaplanes on Lake Dora as they make picturesque landings and takeoffs.

Likewise, Hayes thinks his wind-energy idea will take flight. The utilities director was interested in finding ways to cut costs at the city’s wastewater-treatment plant off Woodlea Road. He knew that several plants in the Northeast use turbines for its electricity and wondered if such a turbine here could reduce the plant’s annual $180,000 electricity bill.

“I thought we might have enough wind because every day, I look at the flags flying outside my office and they always fly out straight,” Hayes said.

Further research showed the potential site near the wastewater plant has some advantages, he said. It sits between lakes Harris and Dora and that proximity to the water adds to the wind turbulence. One statewide wind study found that much of Lake County has as high an annual average wind speed as areas near the Atlantic coast.

In addition, the potential site sits at a higher elevation than the immediate surrounding area — about 100 feet above sea level — and the turbine would be exposed to more winds.

An engineering group has erected a 328-foot tower with instruments to measure wind speeds at various heights. By the end of the year, the consultant should have a year’s worth of data to show whether there is enough wind — and savings — to justify a turbine, which could cost $3.5 million.

“The potential to save our residents money is there,” Hayes said. “It’s innovative, it’s good for the environment and if it lower utility bills, it’s a win-win situation.”

llelis@tribune.com or 386-479-1529

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