Florida’s wind energy industry has some heavy lifting to do, but at least one utility in the state is determined to overcome the obstacles and get more wind into its grid mix. That would be Gulf Power, which has just announced that it is asking the Florida Public Service Commission to ramp up its supply of wind-sourced electricity by 94 megawatts.
With 178 megawatts of wind already in hand, along with some solar and landfill gas, the company is projecting that approval of the request will bring the renewable energy portion of its grid mix up to 9 percent.
Two Obstacles For The Florida Wind Industry
There are two main obstacles for wind development in Florida. All else being equal, one problem is that the state is located in the US southeast, which lacks the steady, high quality onshore winds of other regions.
Check out this map and chart from the National Renewable Energy Laboratory and you’ll see how dismal the picture looks for onshore wind:
On the bright side, the US Department of Energy has determined that the emerging generation of taller wind turbines could enable Florida and other states to take advantage of their high-altitude wind resources.
Transportation costs and hurricane-proofing are among the factors limiting the use of taller turbine towers in Florida for now, but at least the potential exists for tapping into that resource.
What About Offshore Wind?
As for Florida’s offshore wind industry, that’s where the second obstacle comes in: politics. Back in 2010, ten governors along the Atlantic coast signed their states on to a Memorandum of Understanding with the Interior Department called the Atlantic Offshore Wind Consortium. It was designed to coordinate and accelerate development of East Coast wind resources.
Some of the states have sprinted ahead, with Rhode Island leading the pack. Some others, including New Jersey and North Carolina, where the influence of the Koch brothers has been observed, have lagged far behind.
Florida is among two other Koch-connected states that didn’t even sign on to the MOU to begin with, which is a pretty good indicator of its level of support for the wind industry at the executive level (South Carolina is the other non-signer).
However, the wind industry has been slowly gaining a foothold in the state. In 2013, Siemens chose Orlando for the site of one of its four global wind technician training centers.
Last year, the American Wind Energy Association got right up in Florida’s grill by holding its annual WINDPOWER conference in that state for the first time ever. The event featured a keynote speech by US Energy Secretary Ernest Moniz.
It’s an uphill battle, because wind opponents can point to a 2010 NREL study that seems to indicate practically zero potential for offshore wind development in Florida
However, researchers at Florida State University has pointed out that the finding is due to a data gap.
The researchers point to an earlier 2008 NREL study and other supportive data to reach this scenario:
A preliminary study of offshore buoy and tower data by FSU’s Center for Ocean-Atmospheric Prediction Studies (COAPS) indicates that estimates of offshore winds at 100 m turbine levels are very close to the 7 m/s (15.5 mph) value considered economically viable by NREL, with capacity factors of 25-31%.
If FSU is ringing some bells, you may be thinking of the Charles G. Koch Foundation’s insistence on attaching faculty approval strings to a $1.5 million gift to the university’s economics department back in 2011, but that’s another story (and a different department).
More Wind Power For Florida, From Oklahoma
So, how did Gulf Power manage to wrangle 178 megawatts of wind power, with another 94 waiting for approval?
Simple — the utility gets it from the Kingfisher Wind Farm in wind-rich Oklahoma. When fully built out this year, the wind farm will have (or already has) a total capacity of up to 300 megawatts. That leaves plenty of room for Gulf Power to up its take.
The transportation of wind-sourced electricity opens up a whole ‘nother can of worms, as local residents deal with the double whammy of wind turbine siting and new transmission lines (check out the comment thread on one of CleanTechnica‘s latest wind transmission stories for some perspective on that).
On the other hand, many other communities in the US have been living with the risks, public health effects, and unsightliness of fossil energy operations for generations.
More Renewable Energy For Gulf Power
Along with its wind investments, Gulf Power has also been promoting geothermal energy for heating and cooling systems since the 1990’s. The current roster includes about 3,000 installations that contribute about nine megawatts to peak demand reduction.
The utility also has a total of 120 megawatts at three new solar installations for the US military coming online this year, at Eglin Air Force Base in Fort Walton Beach, Holley Field in Navarre, and Saufley Field in Pensacola.
Images: photo via Gulf Power, map via NREL.