SIBLEY—A back-and-forth discussion with a Juno Beach, FL-based energy company was a main agenda item during the Osceola County Board of Supervisors’ meeting Tuesday, April 14.
The board wanted to know when NextEra Energy Resources LLC, a subsidiary of NextEra Energy Inc. which has a wind farm located north of Highway 9 near Harris, would satisfy requirements outlined in a conditional use permit the company was granted in March 2019 for a turbine blade replacement project.
Jeff Bryce, project manager for NextEra Energy Resources, told the board via conference call the company has been speaking with landowners about mitigation options related to excessive noise and shadow flicker caused by the longer blades installed on the turbines in late 2019.
However, board chairman Ed Jones said the one-year period for reaching mitigation agreements with affected landowners had expired and the company still has not met its permit obligations.
“I’m trying to figure out why you waited so long,” Jones said. “We shouldn’t have to remind you or reach out to you to ask for you to complete these things.”
Bryce said the company has not waited to reach out to landowners about mitigation and has sent land agents to the site who have been in negotiation with them.
He said there were three landowners from whom the company has not heard back and three with whom the company still was in negotiations.
To the people who still had not called NextEra back, the company mailed letters asking them to get in touch.
The company has offered to plant trees on the part of the property affected by shadow flicker or install window blinds to block the flicker from appearing inside the houses. It also has offered to pay the landowners if the residents want to mitigate the flicker on their own.
One landowner, Michelle Abadie, attended the meeting. She said she has been experiencing excessive noise and shadow flicker from two turbines close to her property.
Abadie said NextEra initially sent her a good-neighbor agreement a few months into the construction project. The agreement would have paid her $1,500 as compensation for any impact the turbines would have on her property and would require her to waive her rights to hold the company legally responsible.
She turned down the agreement, which she said had not mentioned mitigation, saying she wanted to wait until the new blades were installed to see if any additional shadow flicker occurred when the sun was at its lowest point of the year on Dec. 20. Another factor Abadie wanted to have mitigated was lights that were put on top of the turbines when the new blades were installed.
She did not hear back from NextEra until the end of March, during which time she had spoken with county engineer Aaron Holmbeck and Jones for help in reaching the company.
“I contacted the windmill company, and now they’re calling me all the time and sending me the same stuff,” Abadie said.
“But I’ve also been informed that they’re only mitigating one thing. If I have a problem with shadow, I can either get blinds or get a payout. But if I also have a problem with the flicker and the lights, it’s one or the other. But blinds aren’t going to help the noise. I’ve got a decibel reader, and they’re exceeding the 50 that’s set up by the county.”
Tim Hibma, another landowner who lives near the wind farm, also attended the meeting.
Hibma told the board the first time NextEra had contacted him was April 1, at which point the conditional use permit would have expired.
“I have been contacted almost every day since then,” Hibma said. “I haven’t answered, I mean, I’ve got other responsibilities, but they’re scrambling. They know they’re behind.”
Jones asked Bryce how long he thought it would take to meet the conditional uses of the permit. Bryce said he expects to have the issues resolved in the next few weeks.
Abadie requested the company communicate with her via e-mail going forward, since she reported hearing conflicting information from a representative she spoke with on the phone. For example, she said the company previously suggested throttling down the turbines as a way of reducing noise.
However, the person on the phone told her that was not an option.
“It’s simple in theory; it’s difficult to execute on,” Bryce said.
“It is something that, absolute worst-case scenario, that we could go out there and have to manually install software on those turbines to operate in certain procedures at certain times given certain weather conditions. It’s a very, very labor-intensive, difficult algorithm to develop and it’s turbine specific.”
He also said the turbines would generate less electricity for the grid it powers, which is another reason the company prefers to offer other mitigation options.
Jones told Bryce to remedy the situation with the landowners as soon as possible and submit paperwork for an extension with a definite end date.
“Absolutely,” Bryce said. “This is our top priority for this project and making sure that we remain good neighbors. We’ve been a part of this community for 12 years now, we look forward to remaining a part of this community.”