NEW BRITAIN – BNE Energy has the green light for renewable energy in Colebrook.
The Connecticut Siting Council released their draft opinion on Colebrook South Thursday, and just before 1 p.m., the council approved the petition by a 6-1-2 vote. Vice chairman Colin Tait and council member Dan Lynch had recused themselves earlier in the process, while the only opposition vote came from Philip Ashton. BNE Energy executives Paul Corey and Gregory Zupkus were pleased with the decision, which will give their firm the opportunity to build the first residential wind turbines in the state.
“We’re happy about it,” Corey said on his way to lunch following the vote. “It’s a great day for Connecticut, and it’s a great day for renewable energy.”
BNE Energy had proposed building two separate wind farms in Colebrook, straddling Route 44 near the Norfolk border. Combined, the two projects should generate 9.6 megawatts of power, which – according to BNE Energy’s proposal – is quadruple the annual energy demand of Colebrook. A somewhat similar proposal in Prospect failed by a 5-2 vote, but the two projects ultimately saw different results due to their different locales.
Ashton’s opposition stemmed from the positioning of the turbines within BNE Energy’s land. BNE Energy owns just under 80 acres on Flagg Hill Road, and Ashton was concerned that one of the turbines would infringe on a neighbor’s air rights. These rights – the ability to develop within one’s property borders, at unlimited elevation – are no trifling matter, according to Ashton, who said that “in New York City, selling of air rights is a big business.”
“I don’t understand how this council,” Ashton said, “or anybody, could approve trespass on another person’s property without explicit permission.”
While Ashton voted in favor of the draft findings of fact, the council member voted against the draft opinion, which stated that the Connecticut Siting Council favored the turbines. His was the only opposition vote, and his opposition to the positioning of turbines was consistent.
Corey remarked after the final vote that “in no event will we cross the property lines of the neighbors, unless we have a prior agreement,” adding that they will address the issue of specific citing before building any of the turbines. The turbines themselves will be constructed in Schenectady, New York and transported to Colebrook.
“I don’t think this council has the authority to approve a trespass,” Ashton said. “You can’t build a house out over a neighbor’s property. Period.”
Chairman Robert Stein remarked that “I certainly don’t agree with Mr. Ashton’s comments,” but that the site of all three turbines within the Colebrook South project’s property is not entirely set in stone at this time. Ashton compared the turbines to overhanging trees, asking if neighbors could cut branches that drape over property lines. Council member James Murphy disagreed with the comparison, though.
“Can you cut down the whole tree?” Murphy asked. “There’s your analogy.”
Ashton also expressed concerns that the turbines could not produce a steady stream of energy. Barbara Bell dismissed this line of reasoning, calling it “an argument made by people that don’t want to have wind power.” Bell said that the logical continuation of this argument is that the same number of traditional power plants would need to be built anyways to handle the variable generation.
“The reliability of wind on peak is very poor,” Ashton said. “That’s where you have to keep some form of generation.”
Ashton’s biography on the Connecticut Siting Council’s website includes his tenure as the Chairman, President and CEO of Yankee Energy System and his job as the former Vice President of Transmission and Distribution at Northeast Utilities. However, Stein remarked that “if we added all the negative comments, this would be 100 times larger.”
Both Tait and Lynch recused themselves from the proceedings in May due to potential conflicts of interest. Tait is a member of the Colebrook Land Conservancy, and FairwindCT president Joyce Hemingson – one of the groups opposing the turbines – serves as the conservancy’s secretary. Tait announced his recusal on both Colebrook projects on May 11. Eight days later, Lynch stepped away from the two Colebrook proposals due to his employment by United States Representative John Larson. The Connecticut Siting Council received a letter from Rep. Larson on March 10 opposing the turbines.
The council adjourned for lunch after the vote before reconvening to discuss the Colebrook North petition. As the second half of Colebrook’s pair of proposed turbines, the Colebrook North petitions are on a slightly delayed schedule. A decision is expected no later than June 11, and the Connecticut Siting Council released their draft findings of fact on the petition at the June 2 meeting.