It was not lost on Republicans on the Energy and Technology Committee that it’s chairwoman, Rep. Vickie Nardello, D-Prospect, spent a lot of time last year defending an energy bill which called for the state to create 25 megawatts of wind power.
This year, Nardello is supporting a piece of legislation that calls for the state to develop regulations regarding wind turbines. Her support for the bill comes at the same time as a developer is looking to put two wind turbines in her hometown.
“The only thing that’s changed between May 4 and now is this project,” Rep. Sean Williams, R-Watertown, said.
But Nardello maintained that the state should develop regulations before the siting of the first wind turbine in the state.
Representatives from the Connecticut Siting Council testified Thursday that additional regulations weren’t necessary.
John Olsen, president of the AFL-CIO and vice chairman of the Connecticut Clean Energy Fund, hopes Nardello changes her mind because slowing down the process will essentially kill the first two wind projects in the state.
The wind projects in both Prospect and Colebrook have been under development by BNE Energy Inc. for several years, Olsen said. He said the projects have received $1 million in unsecured grants from the Clean Energy Fund for development. If the projects don’t get built the state will lose its $1 million investment and if the projects don’t get approval within a year they lose their federal tax credits.
Nardello wondered if they could pass the legislation and get the regulations in place within six months so BNE Energy doesn’t lose the federal tax credits, which help make the project affordable.
“To slow it down means to kill it,” Olsen said.
Williams wondered if what the committee was doing by introducing this type of bill was acting as a deterrent to business. He said Connecticut has a bad habit of creating rules, then changing them. He said this bill is a perfect example of that.
Olsen reminded the committee that the two projects, the one in Prospect with two wind turbines and the one in Colebrook with six wind turbines, are going through the Connecticut Siting Council process The Siting Council sites cellphone towers and power plants, but has no specific regulations to site wind turbines.
That worries neighbors like John LaMontagne of Prospect who lives within 800 feet of the proposed wind turbine.
He said his family supports renewable energy and are in favor of wind power where appropriate, but the “two five-hundred foot tall structures with turbines on them are too big, too large, too loud, too close.”
He said he doesn’t care if the state already invested money in the project. He said if he bought his child a toy and later found out it was unsafe he’d take the toy away from the child, instead of allowing the child to play with it.
Gregory Zupkus, president and CEO of BNE Energy, said the two wind turbines in Prospect could generate about 25 percent of the towns power and the six in Colebrook will generate four times the towns demand.
He said as a resident of Prospect he’s familiar with the site where the two wind turbines will sit. He said it’s 68 acres and abuts water property land on the other side.
Prospect Mayor Robert Chatfield, who had initially supported the wind project, changed his mind about 100 days ago when constituents saw a legal notice about the project in the paper and expressed concern.
Chatfield said he changed his mind when there were standing room only crowds at Town Hall when the project was discussed.
What wasn’t talked about at the public hearing on the bill Thursday was how these wind turbines will instantly become the top taxpayer in both towns.
Zupkus said a housing development of 47 new homes had been proposed for the site where he wants to put the wind turbine and those homes would have cost the town an additional $400,000 in spending a year because of the estimated number of children and the cost of schooling them. He said the wind turbines will bring in more revenue for the town than the housing development.
But while there are benefits to the wind project, some of those who testified Thursday opposed the projects.
Helen Plante of Prospect said father’s home is about 1,500 feet from the proposed site.
“When he bought his property, he understood he was near Route 69 and there would be some noise associated with the location,” said Plante. “What he never imagined, as he dug the foundation by hand, that his retirement years and lifetime investment could be ruined by a proposed wind farm.”
Sen. John Fonfara, D-Hartford, pressed her for clarification regarding her comments about the value of the house and how it would have to be abandoned if a seller could not be found.
She said she didn’t think he understood just how big these turbines will be and that they’re not within the character of the community.
Olsen said Connecticut has a bad habit of taking a “not in my backyard,” mentality to many things, wind turbines included.
Later on during the hearing, which didn’t adjourn until 9 p.m., residents from Prospect like Michael Dreher testified in favor of the wind turbines. He said the Siting Council process is enough and he doesn’t think more regulation, including arbitrary setbacks, will help Connecticut reach its renewable energy goals.
Chris Phelps of Environment Connecticut said his organization supports the construction of the wind project.
“A moratorium could send a message to the wind industry that Connecticut is not a place where they are welcome to do business,” Phelps said. “It is legitimate to question whether the state has necessary and appropriate standards governing the siting of energy facilities such as these. In our view, the existing CT Siting Council process, which has governed siting of other energy generation facilities, can, and should be, sufficient to address wind siting as well.”