COLEBROOK—Nearly 18 months after the Connecticut Siting Council approved a pair of commercial wind turbine projects on sites in Colebrook, a legal battle over the projects continues.
BNE Energy proposed the turbines, which were opposed by the group FairwindCT. After the Connecticut Siting Council approved what would be Connecticut’s first commercial wind projects, the opponents filed legal action—after that BNE prevailed in that litigation, FairwindCT appealed.
Both parties are scheduled to be in appellate court Dec. 17 for a pre-appeal hearing to set a timeline.
“Certainly having an appeal is an issue, but it’s managable,” said Paul Corey, chairman of the West Hartford-based BNE. “We feel really good that this superior court’s decision is going to be upheld. Both decisions were very favorable to us, as we expected.”
Joyce Hemingson, the president of FairwindCT, said her group’s mission is larger than just challenging the six turbines proposed in Colebrook. Since the Connecticut Siting Council signed off on the projects – and rejected a similar proposal for wind turbines in Prospect – the council has drafted regulations addressing wind power projects at the Connecticut General Assembly’s behest.
These regulations will be before the legislature’s Regulations Review Committee Dec. 18.
“We’re just trying to get good regulations going for Connecticut,” said Ms. Hemingson. “It’s important that we have good regulationss for the state, even though it looks like industrial wind will not be a major factor.”
According to Ms. Hemingson, studies have shown that the turbines to be built in Colebrook will not operate anywhere near their maximum efficiency and will not accomplish much in Connecticut. She said studies of six turbines in Maine showed that “the efficiencies there are not impressive either.”
“DEEP is estimating that they’ll be 27.9 percent efficient,” said Ms. Hemingson, referring to the state Department of Energy and Environmentla Protection.
Mr. Corey, though, was not concerned about the regulations, which will likely be enacted before BNE Energy can begin to build the turbines.
Another complication for BNE came from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, which sent out a letter stating that the northern project in Colebrook will negatively impact Rock Hall Inn, whose owners had been been among those fighting the turbines.
“Based on the evidence provided to us, we find that the Wind Colebrook North project may alter the characteristics of Rock Hall Inn that qualified it for inclusion in the National Register,” the letter states.
Ms. Hemingson also spoke out against the likely impact of wind energy in Connecticut at the Nov. 26 hearing on Governor Dannel Malloy’s energy plan in Torrington. The plan was criticized fo—as numerous oil company owners stated—tilting the field towards large natural gas companies, but Ms. Hemingson said that the plan itself acknowldges that “Connecticut has limited wind potential.”
Despite the challenges, Mr. Corey is confident that BNE Energy will see the proposed wind turbines through to completion. “We’re on track to have Colebrook be the first commercial wind project in the state,” he said.
After the superior court sided with BNE at the beginning of October, BNE president and CEO Greg Zupkus said, “We were always confiden.
Mr. Zupkus explained at the time that BNE actually broke ground in December of last year on one of the projects, Wind Colebrook South, and has some more steps to take before resuming work on that wind farm and beginning work on Wind Colebrook North.
“We’re proud that we’ll be the first commercial wind projects in Connecticut,” Mr. Zupkus said in a phone interview in October. Based on the power the wind turbine projects will generate, he said Colebrook will be the first 100 percent green town in Connecticut.
According to the release sent on behalf of BNE Energy by Patty McQueen of Communication Strategies, “The Court determined that the Siting Council properly approved the wind projects and dismissed the appeals after rejecting all claims made by the opponents in the court proceedings. In rendering its decision on Colebrook South, the Court determined that the Somers [family], who own Rock Hall [Inn] and oppose the wind farm, would not be impacted by the project because it is 1.5 miles from their property.”
The court also determined that other opponents of the wind farms would not be adversely impacted, the release said.
“The Court rulings support the overwhelming evidence demonstrated by BNE Energy during the Siting Council proceedings that the projects have numerous and significant environmental, economic and societal benefits to the local community and the state at large,” the release said. “Wind Colebrook will provide more than four times the amount of electricity the entire town of Colebrook uses on average over the course of the year making Colebrook a true ‘green’ community.”
According to a Litchfield County Times story published when the lawsuits were filed, one suit came from FairWindCT and the other was filed by Stella and Michael Somers, the owners of Rock Hall Luxe Lodging. They claimed the turbines’ impact would hurt their business.
The Connecticut Siting Council approved the Colebrook projects in separate decisions in June 2011.
The separate wind farms would straddle Route 44 near the Norfolk border. Combined, the two projects would generate 9.6 megawatts of power. The West Hartford-based startup company’s plans call for erecting 400-foot-tall wind turbines—two sets of three, for six total.
A somewhat similar proposal from BNE Energy in the Naugatuck Valley town of Prospect was denied by the Siting Council in a 5-to-2 vote. The council said the project’s visual impact was too great.
Mr. Zupkus said BNE chose not to pursue an appeal of that denial.
The Connecticut Siting Council has final jurisdiction over the placement of telecommunication towers and some energy infrastructure in the state.