Missimer did not return calls for comment, but an administrative judge ruled that, although Missimer had found upward migration of wastewater at three other South Florida sites, the geologist gave sufficient scientific reasons why he did not think such problems would occur at FPL's proposed injection wells.

Louda echoed Bacchus' concerns about the plant's heavy water demands and added his own concerns about nitrogen and sulfur oxides leading to acid rain. He agrees that "a natural-gas-fired, combined cycle plant is the cleanest fossil fuel plant. But it still puts out over 100 tons of [dangerous emissions] in the air." As for the need for that Unit Three? That's "a bunch of buffalo chips," Louda says.

Louda shakes his head and makes some sobering predictions: "Fresh, potable water is the problem of the 21st Century. The next war will be over fresh water. I think man is done. I give him three generations."

C. Stiles
Members of the Palm Beach County Environmental Coalition (including Alex Larson, right) visit the site where a natural gas pipeline was being laid. Millions of gallons of oil will be stored nearby as backup fuel.
Deirdra Funcheon
Members of the Palm Beach County Environmental Coalition (including Alex Larson, right) visit the site where a natural gas pipeline was being laid. Millions of gallons of oil will be stored nearby as backup fuel.

The U.S. Department of Energy rated FPL number one in the nation for energy conservation, and its sister company, FPL Energy, operates the world's largest solar field in the Mojave Desert as well as 58 wind power sites. Locally, however, the company's environmental credibility took a hit this summer when its Sunshine Energy Program was revealed to be a bust.

Nearly 39,000 FPL customers paid an extra $9.75 per month with the understanding that those fees would be used to develop renewable energy. An audit found that 69 percent of the funds — $11.4 million — was spent on marketing materials about renewable energy rather than, as most participants assumed, on renewable energy.

Customers are not getting refunds. FPL argues that it had, after all, purchased 952,000 renewable energy credits with the money, which in turn helped construct a solar energy project in Sarasota County. According to news reports, that project powers about 20 homes. "We appreciate your participation, and you can be proud of what you helped to accomplish," FPL says on its website.

FPL now plans to build three solar energy facilities in Florida by 2011. Combined, the three plants will generate 110 megawatts of electricity, enough to serve about 35,000 people.

Alex Larson, unsurprisingly, considers it all a bunch of lip service. "I've seen these articles about all the solar they're gonna do," she barks. "They've bought nothing and done nothing. The emperor has no clothes! He's naked, and that's a lipstick tube! And it's tiny!"

The Treasure Coast Regional Planning Council, in commenting on FPL's Unit Three, suggested that the utility beef up its commitment to renewable energy. As it stands, FPL's Ten Year Plan covering 2008-17 actually increases reliance on fossil fuels by a couple of percentage points to 82 percent of its energy mix.

The council also warned about the power plant's water usage — especially considering that in recent years, the county imposed water restrictions and "Lake Okeechobee [has been] near record lows." The agency again warned of the effects of air emissions into the sensitive Everglades. "The full economic cost of allowing these emissions into the environment is not being considered," read the report.

Since last summer, Larson, Waite, Tsolkas, Silver, and friends have tried to thwart the plant in any way possible. They appealed some of the rulings. They attended as many hearings as they could manage. But each hearing addressed only a little piece of the puzzle. At every step, FPL was found to have met its legal requirements.

For example, Silver attended the hearing about the pipeline, but the judge wouldn't let him address concerns about potential explosions — only about the digging of the trench.

The activists visited the site where the pipeline was being laid and discovered more than 100 burrows of gopher tortoises, a "species of special concern." They hoped a judge would halt construction; instead, the tortoises were "relocated."

When they challenged the pipeline's permit on a number of grounds, Gulfstream, the pipeline building company, changed its path.

The environmentalists chided Crist when he came to the Everglades for a news conference to announce big plans to buy land from sugar giant U.S. Sugar and restore the ecosystem. They showed up at a County Commission meeting dressed in clown suits. They held another protest at the Aggregates on September 20.

On May 23, the environmentalists filed a federal lawsuit. The suit claims that the plant violates the National Environmental Protection Act, the Endangered Species Act, and the Clean Water Act.

The group argued that no one in power was looking at the big picture. They hoped a judge would require an in-depth review and a detailed environmental impact statement to examine the effects of the plant, the pipeline, and the deep-well injection over time. Judge Middlebrooks — the same judge who stopped Scripps — was assigned to the case.

Larson sighed. "[FPL is] assuming we get [to trial] and the judge will say, 'Well, it's already built.' Just do an [impact statement]! Prove us wrong!"

FPL's lawyers shot back, arguing that the law specified opportunities and deadlines for public input and that the environmentalists had missed many of them. They'd been "sleeping on their rights for over 18 months."

In court papers, FPL sounded tired of the hassle. "Plaintiffs continually try to convince the court that the WCEC is part of a segmented or phased project designed to circumvent environmental laws," lawyers wrote. "This is simply an inaccurate representation of the facts."

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