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BNE Energy responds to Colebrook concerns about turbines

COLEBROOK – With opposition groups lining up against the proposed pair of wind farms along Route 44, BNE Energy chairman Paul Corey believes their concerns are well-founded, but based on bad information.

Corey discussed the proposed projects, which have been submitted to the Connecticut Siting Council and are on the board’s Thursday, Jan. 20 docket, during an editorial meeting at the Register Citizen. In addition to providing examples of how the project differs from existing wind turbines, Corey touched on the biggest complaints from groups such as Save Prospect and FairWindCT.

“Like anything new,” said Corey, “you’re going to get people that don’t understand it.”

The six turbines, according to BNE Energy’s research, should produce quadruple the annual energy usage of the entire town of Colebrook. Excess energy would be funneled into the grid, which can benefit towns such as Norfolk or Winchester. The turbines will be located on two parcels straddling Route 44, which Corey noted are not the optimum locations for generating power. However, the Flagg Hill Road and Rock Hall Road project sites were chosen for their balance between generation and discreetness.

One of the major complaints from groups such as FairWindCT is the lack of regulations regarding wind turbines. Corey pointed out that while it is true there are no wind-specific regulations, renewable energy is regulated on the state level, and that BNE Energy will be involved in helping shape responsible regulations for wind turbines if municipalities want them.

“Many states have followed Connecticut’s lead,” said Corey. “BNE Energy wouldn’t be here if not for the laws.”

One such project is in Canaan, where a smaller turbine is up for discussion. Since the proposed turbine will generate less than one megawatt, its regulations fall under Canaan’s purview, rather than the Connecticut Siting Council. Corey said that BNE Energy is working with the town to draft regulations for wind generation, adding that his background is in regulation.

“People need to take a step back and ask ‘do we really want renewable energy in Connecticut?’” said Corey.

Another concern addressed by Corey is the potential noise that turbines will produce. The BNE Energy chairman said that these claims are not applicable because not only are the turbines that will be used in Colebrook much more advanced, but the examples being cited are no longer on the market.

Specifically, Corey pointed to a turbine in Falmouth, Massachusetts. The turbine at this site, manufactured by Vestas, is six years old, which Corey said is a lifetime in wind technology. According to Corey, each of the six General Electric 1.6 megawatt turbines will produce approximately the same level of noise as a household refrigerator. The turbines are newer technology, as Corey said, than some of the turbines cited by opposition groups. Their lower noise levels, in fact, have helped General Electric become the top seller of wind turbines in the United States.

Issues such as the potential for icing and safety were answered with research. Corey provided several studies, which stated that the risk of injury from ice being thrown from the blades was miniscule – once per square meter every 65,000 years, according to one study performed by Canadian firm Garrad Hassan of a project in northern Vermont.

“Assuming 25 days of icing per year,” the study says, “this amounts to an individual risk for a stationary person present for all icing events located at 60 meters of the turbine base of once every 10 years.”

The study also states that “only very high winds in a specific direction may cause fragments of any significant mass to be blown beyond 60 meters of the turbine base,” a distance far shorter than the distance from any of the turbines to Route 44 or neighbors.

Corey also said that the turbines will have “more than appropriate” setbacks from the neighboring houses. None of the turbines will be any closer to a house than 800 feet. Colebrook South – the formal name for the Flagg Hill Road project – is on an 80-acre parcel of land, and the Rock Hall Road project is on a larger lot, one that is nearly 125 acres in size.

“It’s in the middle of a field,” said Corey. “That’s what’s getting lost.”

Corey also provided several photographic simulations of how both projects would look. According to these simulations, the turbines would only be visible at higher elevations and during winter, as foliage would block the view of the turbines.

As for concerns about property values dropping, Corey pointed towards a turbine on Jiminy Peak in Massachusetts. The turbine there is of a comparable size and capacity to what will go in place in Colebrook, at 1.5 megawatts, and since its construction, business has increased 20 percent per year. Likewise, the turbines will become the largest taxpayers in Colebrook.

“It’s been a boon,” said Corey of the Jiminy Peak project.

While a vast majority of projects that go before the Connecticut Siting Council are eventually approved, Corey said that the process “is not a slam dunk.” The petitioners need to make their cases for projects that go before the council, and Corey pointed out that the council has dealt with “a lot more difficult and complex proceedings” than wind turbines. Additionally, Corey said that there is “certainly no guarantee” that the project will be approved as filed.

“It is a complex process,” said Corey, “but the onus is on the applicant.”