WINSTED – Although the proposed wind turbines would be closer to Norfolk than Winsted, Colebrook residents packed the Northwestern Regional High School auditorium for the first night of public hearings on the proposal.
Nearly 30 people spoke at the hearings, part of a fairly regimented process for the Connecticut Siting Council. Chairman Daniel Caruso reminded attendees – some of whom had been on the trail along with Caruso during the council’s site visits – that the committee had no position on the petition yet, stating, “Firstly, this council is not the proponent of these wind generating facts.” But the majority of speakers weighed in against the proposal for a variety of reasons.
The first speaker, Jennifer Truss, set the tone for the opposition with her concerns about the turbines and the impact they would have on residents. On a personal level, Truss said the noise and flickering of the turbines would exacerbate her migraines. Truss also expressed concern about the impact the turbines – and their vibrations – would have on her livestock, including llamas. A later speaker voiced similar concerns.
“I haven’t heard much farm animal talk tonight,” Janet Morgan, another speaker, said. “I certainly can’t believe a horse would stop and have a fight with an industrial machine.”
Truss was also worried about Colebrook being used as a test case, stating, “We should not be considered expendable in the quest for renewable energy.”
Ron Spencer, another Colebrook resident, said that according to BNE Energy’s own filings, as many as one third of Colebrook’s 900 residential homes would be “visually impacted” by the turbines. “They should not be allowed to blight the gentle foothills for many, many generations,” he added.
Questions of the sustainability of wind energy were also on the minds of several speakers. James Miller, a Colebrook resident and longtime loan officer, said the “financial implications concern me” about the turbines. The combination of government subsidies and grant programs – set to lapse at the end of the year – as well as the unsettled questions of taxation raised Miller’s attention.
“What if House Bill 6029 is revived and wind turbines are exempted from taxation altogether?” asked Miller. “If these numbers are remotely close, this project is bankrupt.”
Bill Gregware, a Goshen resident and self-described environmentalist, also attested to the financial worries. Smaller-scale wind generation would be feasible, Gregware said, but federal subsidies led the industry to “mega-turbines” on an industrial level “because that’s where the megabucks are.”
“Let’s face the truth: The nation is broke; the state is broke,” Gregware said. “Approving this project is essentially adding more to our massive federal and state debt.”
Bill Walsh seconded the questions of BNE Energy’s viability; the company is a startup and their projects in Colebrook and Prospect would be the first large-scale wind generation facilities in the state. Walsh supported the idea of wind generation, but believed the placement and backers are ill-suited.
“Where will we be in 10 years when BNE goes bankrupt?” asked Walsh, “And we’ll probably be an unsecured creditor.”
The number of commenters, both at the Colebrook hearings and previous hearings in Prospect on a similar proposal, led the council to limit speakers to three minutes. But this was not necessarily a hard timeline, as Caruso let residents have their say and finish their thoughts; Spencer asked for 30 more seconds to finish his comments, and Caruso granted them, saying “30 seconds, but not 30 minutes.”
While the majority of commenters were opposed to the plan, several parties spoke up in favor of the turbines.
Harry Gagnon described his street as “a tractor trailer road,” noting he eventually got used to the noise of trucks braking on the road. Colebrook residents will eventually acclimate to the turbines, Gagnon said, adding that he was not envious of the Connecticut Siting Council’s job.
“I wouldn’t want to be up there,” Gagnon said, “deciding which is good, which is bad.”
Riverton resident Eric Long succinct said, “Twenty years from now, there will probably be 100 towers in here somewhere,” and since the state needs to move towards green energy, “we have to start somewhere.”
Several town officials, including Colebrook Planning and Zoning chairman John Garrolls, spoke on their own behalf during the hearings. Pointing out Colebrook’s uniquely rural nature, Garrolls – echoing several other speakers – also nodded towards the town’s existing efforts with renewable energy. The town has hydroelectric generation facilities along several dams, Garrolls said, which already meet the town’s needs.
“Yes, we are green and we’ve been green for two generations,” Garrolls said. “We’ve done our share.”
Public hearings will continue Wednesday at 6:30 p.m. at Northwestern Regional High School, and Caruso added that anyone who was unable or unwilling to speak in public could submit their comments in writing within the next 30 days. A third day of public hearings would be unfeasible, both due to time constraints and the fact that any extra hearings would have to be held at the Connecticut Siting Council’s headquarters in New Britain. However, the hearings gave the council a slice of the local sentiment, which the members also experienced during their site tour earlier in the day.
“Everyone agrees we want to go green,” Schumacher said. “We just don’t want to go deaf in the process.”
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