NEW BRITAIN — Just over one year before Tuesday’s meeting at the Connecticut Siting Council headquarters, the council signed off on two proposed wind turbine installations in Colebrook. On July 24, most of the players in the battle over those turbines reconvened at the council’s offices to discuss proposed regulations for future turbines.
The lack of any existing regulations was one of the main reasons some Colebrook residents opposed the turbines. But the proposed regulations before the Connecticut Siting Council stoked the fires of further opposition, thanks in large part to the setback requirements in the proposal. According to the proposed regulations, turbines need to be at least 1.1 times the turbine’s height from any property lines. In the case of the turbines in Colebrook, that requirement is 550 feet, putting some residents off.
“1.1 times the tower height for industrial turbines is totally inadequate,” said Calvin Goodwin, a Prospect resident who spoke at the first public hearings session.
BNE Energy’s proposal to build wind turbines in Prospect was defeated by the Connecticut Siting Council in May 2011, but the council accepted two proposed three-turbine projects in Colebrook. The projects straddle Route 44 near the Norfolk border, and are projected to generate a substantial amount of Connecticut’s electricity. The six turbines can each generate 1.6 megawatts, and even running at 30 percent capacity — which was the estimate for the turbines, considering their location, during a November 2010 meeting — the turbines would generate enough energy to meet Colebrook’s needs and spill over into Winsted and Norfolk.
However, several Colebrook residents staunchly opposed the turbines in Colebrook because of their proximity to their houses and businesses. One of those residents was Stella Somers, who said the turbines would torpedo the historic atmosphere surrounding Rock Hall Inn.
“Does any member of the Siting Council possess legal training or a higher formal degree in historic preservation?” Somers asked.
Somers and Sukey Wagner joined forces with FairwindCT, a group opposing the turbines, and FairwindCT was one of the groups to submit written comments regarding the turbine regulations. The Connecticut Siting Council split the July 24 public hearing into two sessions in order to allow people working during the day to weigh in at the evening session.
“It is now clear that the 500-foot plus setbacks do not protect the health of Connecticut citizens,” Wagner said.
Several commenters pointed out that other states, such as Massachusetts, have enacted much more stringent regulations than the proposed regulations in Connecticut. Goodwin said that San Diego recently renewed regulations stating that turbines had to be 10 times their height from property lines, and Wagner said setbacks of that magnitude would still have a negative impact on people living close to the turbines.
“There were multitudes of people, all over the world, who found that living under turbines was unbearable,” Wagner said. “Those within 4,290 feet showed significant sleep disturbances.”
Ellery Sinclair, speaking on behalf of the Berkshire Litchfield Environmental Council, seconded the call for renewable energy, but requested that the council consider several other factors. Notably, Sinclair said, the turbines in Colebrook would be far too large for a mostly residential town such as Colebrook, remarking that “the classification of industrial turbines as Class C emitters is inappropriate for rural towns, where no industry exists.”
“Wind is a clear part of renewable energy,” Sinclair continued, “but siting such facilities must be done with great care.”
Wagner said that unlike past meetings with the Connecticut Siting Council, the nine members of the board seemed receptive to the concerns of speakers. The council had been criticized before the decisions on the wind turbines for their high approval rate — which approached 95 percent — but Wagner said that even though the council is hard to read on its face, the Wednesday session seemed different from previous hearings.
“Today, they looked as though they were listening,” Wagner said.