COLEBROOK – There is no sign of any wind turbines going up in Colebrook, three months after BNE Energy Inc. won a state Supreme Court decision that allowed the firm to finally build the first wind farm in Connecticut.
BNE founders and owners Paul J. Corey and Gregory J. Zupkus have not returned repeated calls for comment. First Selectman Thomas D. McKeon said he hasn’t heard from them either, and has observed no activity at either the Flagg Hill Road or Rock Hall Road sites where the turbines are expected to be built.
“Not a word. Nothing at all,” McKeon said last week when asked if had heard from BNE. He said the lack of action has made him wonder whether BNE has a “money issue.”
Corey had said in September, when the court ruling was made, that he expected work to begin on the Flagg Hill Road site before the end of the year. Three turbines were expected to be operational by the summer, he said.
But McKeon said, “I don’t see any activity or anything up there. I don’t know what they’re doing.”
The Connecticut Siting Council approved BNE’s proposals to build three turbines on Flagg Hill and another three on Rock Hall in 2011. They are the only wind farms approved in the state.
But BNE faced strong opposition from residents here and in Prospect, where BNE also had proposed building wind turbines. The Siting Council did not approve any turbines in Prospect.
Residents’ concerns included the flicker of natural light caused by the rotating blades, ice flying off the blades and birds getting killed by the blades. They also complained about the noise the blades would generate and how close these nearly 500-foot tall windmills would be to their homes.
Residents here formed a nonprofit called FairwindCT that appealed the Siting Council’s approvals, first in New Britain Superior Court. FairwindCT and a few property owners argued that the council lacked the authority under state law to act on BNE’s proposals. They said BNE, based in West Hartford, should not have been allowed to seek approvals from the council because state law limited the approval process to power-generating facilities that use a combustible fuel or nuclear reaction. Wind does not fit that definition.
But after a three-year legal battle, the Supreme Court ruled that the New Britain Superior Court was correct to dismiss FairwindCT’s appeal in 2012. The Supreme Court concluded the trial court properly ruled that the Siting Council had jurisdiction over BNE’s applications because the projects fell under the jurisdiction of state law. The court cited the General Assembly’s passage of legislation in 2011 directing the Siting Council to consult with state energy officials about adopting wind turbine regulations.
The Siting Council did not approve BNE’s proposals until those regulations were established.
MELANIE A. BACHMAN, THE COUNCIL’S staff attorney and acting executive director, said last week that the council’s approval is good for four years, from the date of the Supreme Court’s decision on Sept. 23.
“This deadline could be extended if a written request is submitted to the Siting Council by the project developer prior to the expiration date and if the Siting Council approves the extension,” Bachman wrote in an email.
The turbines, which are expected to be built by General Electric, would generate 2.85 megawatts each and feed the New England region’s power grid. Corey had said that BNE plans to build the wind farm on Flagg Hill Road first and see how that goes before they build the one on Rock Hall Road.
The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers has issued BNE a permit for Flagg Hill, but it closed the file on Rock Hall because BNE has not pursued that application, an agency spokesman has said. Wetlands mitigation and road reconstruction previously had been cited as issues for the Rock Hall project.
Corey and Zupkus largely have declined to comment about how they are financing their projects, but in 2011 they were exploring the possibility of applying for a federal grant that would cover roughly 30 percent, or $7.2 million, of the $24 million cost for the six turbines.
BNE also received two $500,000 loans from the Connecticut Clean Energy Fund, one of which they don’t have to pay back because it was for the Prospect project and that was not approved.
Corey has said BNE could become Colebrook’s largest tax generator at $150,000 a year.
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