After months of heated debate, accusations of foul play and one rejected plan, Connecticut is poised to see its first commercial wind-turbine generation project, ending its status as the last New England state without one.
In a straw poll Tuesday, the Connecticut Siting Council voted 6-1 in favor of three, 492-foot wind turbines – one-half of a proposed $24 million development in Colebrook.
The tally was non-binding but is a strong indicator of which way the wind will blow when the regulators charged with accepting or rejecting a controversial plan in the sparsely populated Litchfield County town take their final vote next week.
As the siting council was taking its poll, the state House of Representatives Tuesday voted 132-6 to approve a bill requiring state agencies to develop regulations for the approval of wind turbine electricity-generation projects.
The siting council’s straw poll was hailed by BNE Energy Inc., the West Hartford company that petitioned seeking permits for the wind farm. BNE and its supporters were especially concerned because on May 12, the council rejected BNE’s plan for a two-turbine wind farm in Prospect.
“We’re very encouraged and excited, and we believe this vote sends the right message that Connecticut is open for renewable, wind energy,” Gregory Zupkus, BNE’s president, said.
A separate plan by BNE for three more turbines of the same height on a nearby parcel in Colebrook, across Route 44, is due for a straw poll next week and a final vote after that. Combined, the six turbines would generate enough electricity for 6,700 and 9,600 homes.
Wind farm opponents said Tuesday they were “obviously disappointed” by the results of the siting council poll and vowed to keep fighting the proposal, possibly by filing an appeal in court.
“We feel it is definitely going to be an issue for the people living there,” said Joyce Hemingson, president of FairWindCT, a grassroots group organized after BNE sought approval for the Colebrook project. “It’s going to be an ongoing nightmare. It’s definitely going to affect their property values and their quality of life.”
It is likely the siting council will impose conditions on BNE, but the straw poll on the Prospect project mirrored the final vote, with no council member changing their vote.
With Tuesday’s vote in the House, Hemingson said, legislators are “getting serious about regulations but it is too late for these projects.”
The bill, which now goes to the Senate, would require the siting council, in consultation with the state departments of Public Utility Control and Environmental Protection, to adopt regulations that would consider factors such as height of the towers and how far they are set back from neighboring properties.
Other factors to be considered would include “impact on natural resources,” and a requirement for the developer to “decommission the facility at the end of its useful life.” The regulations would require a public hearing for wind power projects.
The bill calling for the new regulations would not affect either BNE proposal because they predated the proposed July 1 effective date of the new law, and the siting council’s action on them is expected to be completed before then, said Rep. Vickie Nardello, D-Prospect, co-chairwoman of the legislature’s energy and technology committee. Any new applications would have to wait to be approved until after the new regulations were adopted under the proposed new law, Nardello said. That could take six to 18 months, she said.
BNE’s plan for Prospect was rejected because the council said the “visual effects” were unacceptable, given the density of the homes in the area and the planned height of the turbines. Zupkus said BNE has not decided if it will pursue another proposal in Prospect.
The Colebrook plan is split into two pieces – the 80-acre, Colebrook South, covered by Tuesday’s poll, and the 125-acre Colebrook North. When the siting council meets to render a final decision June 2 on Colebrook South, it will conduct a straw poll on Colebrook North.
The nine-member siting council was created by the state legislature in 1972 and has the sole authority to approve sites for electricity-generating facilities ranging from nuclear power plans to trash-to-energy projects and wind farms.
Two council members recused themselves from the straw poll – Colin C. Tait, the council’s vice chairman, and Daniel P. Lynch – because of conflicts and were not at the meeting. Tait has recused himself from further deliberations on the Colebrook and Prospect wind farm projects, after he revealed last month he was a member of Colebrook Land Conservancy, which opposes the project.
Council Chairman Robert Stein, and members Brian Golembiewski, Larry P. Levesque, Barbara C. Bell, Edward S. Wilensky and James J. Murphy Jr. voted in favor of the plan in Tuesday’s poll. Philip T. Ashon cast the sole vote against.
Reached after the meeting, Wilensky declined comment until after next week’s final vote.
Courant Staff Writer Janice Podsada contributed to this story.
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