Regulators approved the state’s first commercial wind farm Thursday, but the announcement drew a swift response from opponents Friday who said the Connecticut Siting Council ignored testimony from Colebrook residents concerned about health and wildlife issues and the turbines proximity to local homes.
The council’s decision clears the way for one-half of a proposed $24 million commercial wind-power development in Colebrook – and are leaning toward approving the other half.
The Siting Council, which has the authority to approve energy generation projects, voted 6-1 to approve the construction of three 492-foot wind turbines on an 80-acre site known as Colebrook South, with member Philip T. Ashton in opposition. Two members of the nine-member council – Colin C. Tait and David P. Lynch – recused themselves from the vote.
Council Chairman Robert Stein and members Brian Golembiewski, Larry P. Levesque, Barbara C. Bell, Edward S. Wilensky and James J. Murphy Jr. supported the plans for Colebrook South.
In a separate straw poll Thursday, the council voted in favor of the project’s other half, known as Colebrook North, which would allow three more turbines to be built on a 125-acre parcel across Route 44.
Thursday’s straw poll vote is non-binding. Murphy, Bell, Wilensky, Golembiewski, Levesque and Stein voted in favor of the plan. Ashton said he might vote for the project if the wind turbines were smaller. Council members Lynch and Tait also recused themselves from the straw poll. A final decision on Colebrook North is expected June 9.
The project’s developer, BNE Energy Inc. of West Hartford, said it was encouraged by Thursday’s voting.
“We are very pleased with the straw poll vote on Colebrook North and the passing today of Colebrook South project. We appreciate the direction of the new administration and the new chairman,” Gregory Zupkus, president of BNE Energy Inc., said.
“It’s a great day for the residents of Colebrook and the residents of Connecticut. And it definitely sends the message from the new administration that Connecticut is definitely open for wind renewable energy,” said Zupkus, who was disappointed by the council’s decision last month to reject a separate plan by BNE to build two commercial wind turbines in Prospect, citing the density of the homes in the area and the turbines’ height.
But Joyce Hemingson, president of FairWindCt, a grassroots opposition group, said the council is ignoring the plight of the 47 Colebrook residents whose homes are located within 2,000 feet of the two Colebrook projects, almost equal to the 53 homes in Prospect.
“How is it acceptable to harm…47 [residences], but not 53?” Hemingson said in a statement she issued Friday.
“No other towns should go through what Prospect and Colebrook have in the past 7 months. We urge the State Legislature to pass HB 6249, which will create regulations for siting industrial turbines, before the end of the current session,” Hemingson said.
Opponents also said they are prepared to fight the decision.
“The decision on Colebrook North has been made – let’s not kid ourselves. We don’t expect the final decision to be much different,” said Nicholas J. Harding referring to the results of Thursday’s straw poll. The council’s final vote on the two wind projects it has reviewed have mirrored the results of its straw polls.
Harding, a Hartford attorney who represents FairwindCt and other opponents of the Colebrook projects, said his clients are considering filing an appeal in state Superior Court, but will wait until the council makes its final decision on Colebrook North.
The nine-member siting council 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.
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