November 11, 2010

Wind turbine project proposed in Colebrook gets public’s scrutiny

By JASON SIEDZIK, The Register Citizen, 11 November 2010

COLEBROOK – A pair of related projects to bring wind power to Connecticut, starting in Colebrook, faced public scrutiny at Town Hall.

BNE Energy, a Delaware company based in West Hartford, held an informational meeting Wednesday night to inform residents of the details of their project – or, as regulations require, projects. The windmills will be split over two parcels on opposite sides of Route 44, with one adjacent to Rock Hill Road and another at 29 Flagg Hill Road.

BNE Energy expects to file the project with the Connecticut Siting Council by the end of next week. The council has the final say on such affairs, and the projects would have to be filed with the council because each turbine generates more than one megawatt. The informational filings will be made available for review in Colebrook Town Hall, as well as on the state of Connecticut’s Web site.

As a large-scale commercial project, the turbines would, in some viewpoints, bring sorely-needed tax revenue to a town without much of a manufacturing base. Others, though, consider the project an eyesore – or worse.

“They singlehandedly turned a residential area into a commercial area,” said Mark Palmer.

By building the windmills – which should each provide 1.6 megawatts of power – will be 100 meters tall at the hub, and the turbine’s blades would each be up to 50 meters long, although Paul Corey of BNE Energy said the blades would most likely be shorter, approximately 41 meters. The turbines would be remotely operated by GE, in what are described as “sparsely populated” areas.

Eva Villanova, who owns property adjacent to one of the parcels, criticized the placement of the turbines, saying that they are too close to her house. Villanova voiced her support for renewable energy, but does not believe wind energy is suited for residential purposes.

“I’m all for solar,” said Villanova. “But I don’t want to live with the noise, flickering and ice shedding.”

For some, though, the potential benefits for the town far outweigh the potential for problems. The turbines, along with a simultaneous wind project in Prospect, would be the first commercial application of wind power in Connecticut, and at nearly $25 million to complete both projects, would be a boon to Colebrook’s tax base.

The proposal states that the two projects would be among the town’s biggest taxpayers. First Selectman Thomas McKeon estimated the impact could be in the range of 2.5 mills if – as BNE projected – the town received a projected $500,000 in taxes.

“That’s what’s on a lot of people’s minds,” said McKeon. “A good portion of the town is in favor.”

One resident, who remained anonymous, described himself as “one of those people for green energy” and supports the project. A lifelong resident of Colebrook, he believes the turbines – and ensuing tax payments – would help ease the burden on homeowners.

“We’re talking about a town with no industry,” said the resident. “It would be nice to have it instead of putting it all on our shoulders.”

The windmills are projected to not only meet Colebrook’s demand for energy, but exceed it. All power generated by the windmills would go into the grid, with no physical way to contain it, but as the project does not entail building new transmission lines, houses on the distribution lines connected to the turbines would draw power from the windmills. Corey estimated that the windmills would run at approximately 30 percent of capacity, given weather conditions in Colebrook, and cited the land’s layout as being beneficial to the town. The hilly terrain and heavy forestation would lessen the chance of flickering, which is already limited to just a pair of 30-day windows in the fall and spring.

Part of what gave McKeon hope for the project was the amount of research BNE Energy put into the presentation. Zapata Courage of Western Ecosystems Tech cited studies on the impact of the windmills on wildlife, namely birds and bats – on par with any other buildings of their size – while the project is also not expected to infringe on any protected species. The only such species near the parcels is a protected plant, which does not grow in either parcel.

Additionally, the project will not make much of an aesthetic impact, according to BNE Energy. No new transmission lines would be built, and most of the new infrastructure would be underground. Distribution lines would be upgraded to three lines instead of one, but that is a fairly routine procedure, according to Connecticut Light and Power.

Corey and partner Gregory H. Zupkus said that there would be some equipment above ground, but not only would they be small – roughly the size of a transformer – they would also be concealed by bushes. The turbines only require occasional maintenance, which would be performed mostly inside the turbine and would consist mostly of oil filter changes.

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