On a cold, windswept ridge, members of the Connecticut Siting Council and residents of Colebrook and surrounding towns got their first look Tuesday at Colebrook South, an 80-acre parcel that is half of a proposed commercial wind farm.
The proposal would bracket Colebrook with six 492-foot wind turbines, three at Colebrook South and three at Colebrook North.
Council members, who have sole authority to approve sites for traditional and alternative energy-generating projects, trudged up a snow-covered hill to the spot where BNE Energy Inc., the West Hartford wind developer, erected a 180-foot meteorological tower two years ago. The two Colebrook sites would constitute a 9.6-megawatt wind farm.
“There are other places in Connecticut that people might like to see these located – offshore or on an isolated ridge top – but the problem is you can’t get the power out,” said Greg Zupkus, co-founder of BNE, which is seeking approval to create commercial wind farms in Colebrook and in Prospect. “This location is close to the grid. It took my partner and I a good year to find these locations.”
The nine-member siting council, which opened a public hearing on the Colebrook proposal after the three-hour site tour Tuesday, was created by the state legislature in 1972 and has sole authority to approve sites for electricity-generating facilities ranging from nuclear power plants to trash-to-energy projects and wind farms.
“We are merely the ones to decide if they meet the legal requirements to be built,” siting council Chairman Daniel Caruso told about 200 people who attended the hearing at Northwestern Regional High School in Winsted. The council has until May to make a decision, according to state statute.
“We are the only state in New England that doesn’t have wind power,” Zupkus added.
That statement might be true, but it does not sit well with residents who view the potential wind farm as a blight on a quiet, rural town, one that would decrease property values and infringe on local zoning regulations.
Speaking at Tuesday’s hearing, resident Alan White said that the “monstrous” industrial wind turbines do not belong in the area, and that the council should not be “pressured by the fact that federal funding for these products expires this year.”
Like many opponents, White expressed concern that the turbines would harm local residents and wildlife. “Proponents tell you it’s no louder than a refrigerator, but it’s going to sound more like a jet engine,” he said.
Others told the council that the time has come to embrace alternative energy, even if a commercial wind farm feels like an imposition.
“I am for the towers,” said Eric Long of Colebrook. “There are towers in New England. Unfortunately, it is time to move to green energy and we have to start somewhere,” Long said.
At least one area resident had not made up her mind.
“I am skeptical,” said Turi Rostad of Norfolk. “But I want to learn, I want to listen. I just want to make sure they’re doing due diligence. I want to know is this the best green solution? I just don’t want this rushed.”
That question – whether these projects are being rushed through – is now part of an emerging debate in the state legislature.
A proposed bill would delay any commercial wind farm developments until the departments of Public Utility Control and Environmental Protection develop specific regulations governing where they can be placed. The agencies would have until Oct. 1 to issue regulations.
The bill has been approved the Energy and Technology Committee and is awaiting action in the House. Whether the guidelines could overturn the Colebrook and Prospect projects is not clear.
“All the requests of that bill have been executed,” Zupkus said. “We’ve done our studies. We’ve done the bird, the bat, the setback, the civil engineering studies. No house is closer than 1,000 feet from a turbine.”
The siting council will continue the Colebrook public hearing on Wednesday, at 6:30 p.m., in Northwestern Regional High School, 100 Battistoni Drive in Winsted. Speakers must sign up and will have three minutes to talk. Those who cannot attend may e-mail comments to firstname.lastname@example.org during the 30 days following Wednesday’s hearing.