PROSPECT – In a surprise straw vote on Monday, six out of seven members of the state Siting Council indicated they will vote against a wind turbine project in Prospect.
Council members expressed concern over the size of the turbines and the fact that they will be located close to homes.
A formal vote is expected by the Siting Council on May 12 on a proposal by BNE Energy Inc. of West Hartford to install two 1.6-megawatt wind turbines on a 67.5-acre parcel at 178 New Haven Road in Prospect.
A decision to deny the project, rare for a board with a better than 90 percent approval rate for projects, could also affect another commercial wind turbine project proposed by BNE in Colebrook. BNE has two applications pending before the Siting Council for six 1.6-megawatt turbines in Colebrook.
The two projects by BNE are the first commercial wind turbine projects to be proposed in the state.
“If BNE’s wind projects, which are the first in the state, are defeated, it will make it far less likely that another renewable energy company will try again, leaving Connecticut the only state in New England still without wind power,” said BNE spokeswoman Patty McQueen in a prepared statement.
Siting Council members who indicated their opposition to the Prospect project cited the size of the turbines and their closeness to residential properties.
Council member Philip Ashton expressed concern with the height of the structures, which would tower more than 450 feet above the surrounding countryside, including the blades.
“This is one of the most difficult decisions we’ve had to make,” said council member Daniel P. Lynch Jr. “This country, this state has to wean itself off foreign oil. There is a place for wind turbines but this may not be the place.”
Siting Council vice chairman Colin Tait said the current site is zoned residential. He said in this case the Siting Council should not override local zoning and allow large wind turbines in a residential area.
“This is just too big. My initial reaction is ‘I don’t think so,’” said Tait.
By BNE’s numbers, 52 residences are within 2,000 feet of the proposed project, and some 860 buildings, most of them homes, are within 1.24 miles.
Kenneth Braffman, designee of Department of Public Utility Control Chairman Kevin DelGobbo, was the only council member who said he would vote for the project – even though he expressed concerns with the application. Braffman said the council “never sited something like this” before.
Chairman Robert Stein did not express an opinion. He was asked by another group opposing the Prospect project to recuse himself because they argued he had already made up his mind to vote in favor. Stein said council attorneys would advise him on whether he can vote on May 12.
His vote may not matter. The Siting Council has nine members, and six votes would be more than enough to sink the proposal.
The straw vote seemed to take both sides by surprise. After the meeting adjourned there were different reactions from Save Prospect and BNE representatives.
“I had hoped right along this would be the result,” said Save Prospect President Tim Reilly.
Reilly said Save Prospect made a much stronger case that the turbines would be located in one of the most densely populated areas in the country for commercial wind projects.
Karen Dunn, a resident of Woodcrest Drive, was “not singing yet.”
“It’s been a very tough four months. I need normalcy back,” Dunn said, relief apparent in her voice.
It was a different feeling Monday than two weeks ago, when Save Prospect members were prepared to take the council to court over any decision not favorable to them. They said then that report from council staff included very few if any of the facts presented by opponents. Save Prospect had submitted additional brief making the opponents’ case on Monday.
BNE President and CEO Gregory J. Zepkus walked out of the meeting before it adjourned and would make no comment afterward.
“We are very troubled by the Siting Council’s straw vote and the potentially devastating effect a final vote like this one could have on renewable energy in Connecticut,” McQueen said in her statement.
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