In 2005, Michael and Stella Somers bought a 10,000-square-foot piece of Connecticut’s history, Rock Hall manor house in Colebrook, built in 1912 for an heir to the Alexandre Steam Ship fortune.
They spent the next three years restoring the house and its 22-acre setting. In 2008, they turned their home, listed on the National Register of Historic Places, into a bed and breakfast, promising visitors comfort and serenity in a park-like setting.
Now the Somers’ say their livelihood is threatened by BNE Energy Inc., the West Hartford developer that wants to construct at least three, 460-foot-tall commercial wind turbines within a half-mile of their B&B.
“If these turbines are sited here, that will be the end of our guests,” Stella Somers said.”These things are 40 stories high. These aren’t like cute Dutch windmills somewhere.”
Paul Corey, chairman and co-owner of BNE, said the company’s wind turbines will bring value to the area and – as they have in other New England states – attract tourists.
“People are going to want to come to her bed and breakfast to see the wind turbines. People view them as very favorable and people want to see them,” Corey said.
The proposed $24 million wind farm and its six turbines will generate 9.6 megawatts – enough to power 9,600 homes and add $400,000 in tax revenue to the town’s coffers each year, Corey added.
Over the next several months, the Connecticut Siting Council will review BNE’s petition to construct two wind farm developments: one in Colebrook, the other in Prospect.
Under state law, the nine-member council has sole jurisdiction over construction of any type of electric-generating facilities, including gas-fired plants, hydroelectric plants and wind farms, an alternate-energy source that produces zero emissions.
Linda Roberts, the council’s executive director, has said that the concerns of local residents are taken into account as are a project’s impact on the environment and public safety.
But this will be the first time the council reviews a commercial wind farm proposal. If the developments are approved, Colebrook and Prospect would have the state’s first commercial wind turbines.
Stella Somers and her husband petitioned the council last week and asked to participate in the hearing, which would allow them to present witnesses and cross-examine other participants. The couple says BNE ignored the resort’s status as a historic place when it proposed erecting wind turbines half a mile away.
BNE Energy, in response, filed a petition asking the council to deny their request, saying in part that the claims are irrelevant under the council’s guidelines.
“BNE need only establish that the proposed project complies with air and water quality standards of the Department of Environmental Protection,” the company said in its petition. “Therefore, the issue of whether the proposed project will have an adverse effect on the Somers’ property is irrelevant to the council’s decision-making criteria.”
Corey said that Rock Hall was not added to the National Register of Historic Places
until last July, too late for BNE’s consultants to include that fact in the company’s proposal.
“We will be going out there and taking a look,” Corey said.
More residents of Colebrook, Winchester and Norfolk are planning to file similar petitions, said Joyce Hemingson, president of FairWindCt, a Colebrook citizens group. The group is calling for a moratorium on the approval of commercial wind farm developments until regulations governing their location in residential areas are established.
In one of his final actions as attorney general, Sen. Richard Blumenthal met last week with Colebrook and Prospect residents, and is now calling for clear standards to regulate commercial wind turbines and allow residents to play a more prominent role in deciding where they’re installed.
A trip to a Lempster, N.H., wind farm convinced the couple that the noise from a wind turbine “is not unlike a plane going by. At 500 feet from the turbine we couldn’t hear each other talk,” Stella Somers said.
“People come to our resort for peace and quiet,” she said.
“We are not against renewable energy, but we are against the siting of an industrial turbine in a residential area. It’s just not an appropriate structure next to my house or anybody else’s house.
Corey says the proposed wind turbines, built by GE, a Connecticut company, “are the quietest in the industry. Most people won’t hear anything because of where they’re located and the setbacks we’ve proposed. You’ll hear the wind blowing and you might hear the blades turning. But they’re not very loud at all.”
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