If it takes two turbines to have a farm, Connecticut has finally joined the rest of the northeast and most of the country – barely – with its first commercial wind farm, capping a long controversy in Colebrook.
The twin, General Electric turbines just off Route 44 in the bucolic northwest Connecticut town are due to go live on the electric grid any day now, perhaps Thursday, developer Gregory Zupkus said. Each tower, 450-feet-tall at the highest swipe of the blades, will generate just under 2.5 megawatts at peak output.
Zupkus’ company. BNE Energy, has a contract for Eversource to buy the 5 megawatts, and Zupkus said he hopes to win a purchase deal that would enable a third turbine at the same site, which was approved by the state.
A second set of three turbines further north in Colebrook was also approved by the state but Zupkus said BNE has no immediate plans to build it, and it.
Late Thursday morning, Zupkus, his partner, their lenders from the Connecticut Green Bank, Webster Bank and others gathered at the site to celebrate the moment, as engineers continued to test and fine-tune the turbines. For Zupkus, it was the culmination of more than 15 years of dreaming and planning, stretching back to the time he saw a row of wind turbines on a hillside in Donnegal, Ireland, on a visit to his ancestral homeland.
“We’re very excited, we were optimistic for years. This is it,” Zupkus said Wednesday night. “I personally think they’re beautiful and a lot of people have been coming up to see them.”
That, of course, is not a view shared by everyone. Opponents, including neighbors who formed the group FairWindCT, took their fight all the way to the state Supreme Court, which decided in BNE’s favor last year.
Joyce Hemingson, a Colebrook resident and head of FairWindCT, was not aware of Thursday’s event when I spoke with her Wednesday night, but said she was quite aware of the turbines, which BNE finished erecting on August 6.
“They’re quite visible,” Hemingson said. “it’s what we expected it to be based on wind farms elsewhere and it really is a matter of time before people understand the effects of having homes so close to them.”
The two turbines are down from an original plan for three, generating roughly the same power. In the time it took to duke this one out, GE came up with turbines the same size that are more powerful and very slightly quieter. Zupkus wouldn’t reveal the cost.
We can call this a split decision, overall. The Connecticut Siting Council, which has purview over energy projects, sided with opponents in rejecting BNE’s bid for a wind farm in Prospect. FairWindCT also had a role in state regulations that require distances from each turbine to the owners’ property lines – rules that didn’t apply to the Colebrook site.
“We have the capability to make wind power a leading source of energy in our state and this project will demonstrate wind power’s compatibility with Connecticut’s renewable energy,” said Paul Corey, Zupkus’ partner, and chairman of BNE Energy, in a written release.
Wind power is, and will remain, a small part of efforts to generate cleaner electricity, as the state consumes something in the range of 6,000 megawatts on a hot summer day. Hemingson and other opponents say most wind farms in New England generate less than a third of their rated power overall, because the wind doesn’t blow all the time.
Fights can and should continue over noise, bird kills and proximity to houses, and that alone will keep the number of turbines down in densely populated Connecticut. But as for the argument about scenic vistas from a distance, that should, by now, be settled. As a drive through Pennsylvania’s eastern ridges shows, wind turbines are here to stay.
They do seem to have a sort of Teletubbies look about them and could almost fit into a 19th century folk art painting.
For now, it’s a curiosity in a state that’s late into the game. “We basically caused a tourism problem,” Zupkus said, with peole coming to the windy hill to see the turbines over the last several weeks.
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