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Supreme Court clears way for wind turbines in Colebrook

HARTFORD – The Connecticut Supreme Court has removed a major obstacle to construction of the state’s first large-scale, commercial wind turbines.

In a 6-0 ruling released Monday, the court rejected a legal challenge from FairwindCT, a citizens group.

At issue were Connecticut Siting Council decisions in 2011 to approve construction and operation of 1.6-megawatt turbines at two sites in Colebrook: three on Flagg Hill Road, a site known as Colebrook South; and three at the intersection of Route 44 and Rock Hall Road, known as Colebrook North.

FairwindCT Inc. appealed the approvals, in part challenging the council’s jurisdiction in the matter, but the state Superior Court dismissed those appeals.

The group then took its case to the state Supreme Court, which on Monday affirmed the trial court’s decision.

BNE Energy, a wind power company that proposed the Colebrook projects, now hopes to begin construction by year’s end and to have turbines operating by mid-2015, BNE Energy Chairman Paul Corey said Monday afternoon.

The company has built some access roads and done preliminary work on two turbines at Colebrook South, Corey said, “but we had to wait until this decision came out to go ahead with full financing for the project.”

“It’s been a real exciting day, and a great decision out of court for renewable energy, in particular wind energy, in Connecticut,” he said.

The decision came as no shock to the citizens group that fought the projects.

“We’re not surprised, ultimately, that they ruled the way they did,” FairwindCT President Joyce Hemingson said.

She said the Supreme Court justices confirmed that state law required the siting council to consider air and water quality. In its decision, the court wrote, “we agree with the trial court that the council was authorized to approve BNE’s petitions even though it had not determined that the proposed projects comply with state noise law.”

Hemingson, who lives in Colebrook, said FairwindCT achieved one of its goals: state approval of new regulations specific to wind projects. “We saw there was an obvious need there,” she said.

Under a law passed this year, a wind turbine must be no closer to the property line than 1.5 times the turbine’s height. Hemingson said the Colebrook projects as approved would not have met the new requirements.

She said the group was glad, at least, to have the court case settled. “We’ve been waiting and waiting like everyone else,” Hemingson said.

Melanie Bachman, the siting council’s acting executive director and staff attorney, said: “We’re absolutely thrilled with the outcome. It was certainly a long, arduous process, but now we have some excellent Supreme Court precedent to rely on in future cases. … I think it clarifies the law.”

The planned “hub height,” or distance to the top of the supporting tower, of the turbines is 322 feet. The “tip height,” the highest point with the blade straight over the tower, is 491 feet.

Corey, of BNE Energy, said Colebrook South will be built first. He said the company still needs to propose mitigation measures to the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers for Colebrook North.