The St. Louis company that built Missouri's first wind farm five years ago is seeking to do the same in Florida — a $250 million project in west Palm Beach County.
The 150-megawatt wind farm being developed by Tom Carnahan's Wind Capital Group is planned for more than 10,000 acres in an agricultural area of South Florida that's used for growing sugarcane.
If completed, the wind project would not only be a first for Florida, it would be the first large wind development in the Southeast. It would also probably represent Wind Capital Group's first foray outside of the Midwest.
"Wind Capital Group since its inception has always been about getting a first-mover advantage in looking for places where you can do large, utility-scale wind development where nobody else was looking," Carnahan said.
Five years ago, that described Missouri. Since then, the company has developed projects totaling more than 300 megawatts of generating capacity in the northwest corner of the state. The list includes its most recent venture, the 150-megawatt Lost Creek wind farm in DeKalb County.
Carnahan said the emergence of larger, more efficient turbines had opened up markets such as the Southeast that had been bypassed by the wind industry.
"Right now, there are turbines that are ready to deploy that could turn what would have been a very marginal wind site into an efficient wind site," he said.
The downturn in energy markets, a product of the recession, has also contributed to an oversupply of turbines and related components, helping drive down prices, he said. Construction companies, too, are hungry for work and can be hired for less.
"This is a very unique period for forward-looking utilities to lock down clean renewable energy for 20 years at fantastic prices," Carnahan said.
The Florida project is still in the early phases of development, but Wind Capital has had talks with utilities and hopes to be generating electricity by the end of next year.
The company intends to lease the required land from sugarcane growers, who, much like in the Midwest, would be able to continue to raising crops.
Wind Capital is keenly aware of concerns that might be raised about the impact of a wind project situated near ecologically sensitive areas, particularly with respect to migratory birds. To that end, the company has specialists monitoring and counting birds and it is holding advance meetings with local officials, landowners and environmental groups to address potential issues.
"Florida is a unique area," Carnahan said. "We want to take great care that the benefits of wind energy are complementary to conservation efforts."
Carnahan is confident the Florida project will demonstrate the region's wind energy potential.
To date, except for a couple of small wind energy projects in Tennessee, the Southeast has missed out on the wind energy boom that has played out across the central U.S. in recent years. There's been talk of offshore wind developments, but they have been highly controversial and mostly focused in the Northeast.
"It will show that conventional wisdom is incorrect and that wind power is part of a national solution."
Besides the Florida project, Wind Capital is developing a wind farm in central Kansas and eyeing potential projects in more than a dozen other states, according to the company's website.
The Kansas project, like Lost Creek, will be owned and operated by Wind Capital. Carnahan said the company intended to retain ownership of the Florida wind farm, too. Its other Missouri projects developed by the company are owned by John Deere.