Evidentiary hearings come to a close, decision imminent on Wind Prospect project

Tim Reilly, president of Save Prospect Corp., walks past the meteorological tower BNE used to measure wind at their prosposed turbine site during a walk-through with the Siting Council February 23.

The experts have offered their opinion, the advisors have advised, questions have been asked, and each side has made its case. Now all that’s left for those on both sides of debate over the site of two commercial wind turbines in Prospect is to wait for the Connecticut Siting Council to render a decision.

“We’re just waiting on a response on the project,” said Gregory Zupkus, CEO of BNE Energy, the company that hopes to build two, 1.6 megawatt turbines in the small town. He said he expects a decision by May 16, 180 days from when the company submitted the proposal, as required by law.

Over the past month, the council held three evidentiary hearings, toured the site and listened to two days of public comment on the proposed project.

Zupkus said he was impressed with the knowledge and time that the Siting Council put into researching the issue.

I believe the council did a great job with their questions and understanding the wind industry and this wind project,” Zupkus said.

The project has come under intense opposition from Prospect residents who live near the site. Opponents, represented by Save Prospect Corp., claim that the turbines will lower their quality of life and real estate values. They say the turbines are sited too close to residences and could present health and safety concerns.

During the evidentiary hearings, BNE presented studies on everything from the turbine’s impact on bats to noise levels to the possibility of ice throw and which homes would be impacted by shadow flicker. For every study BNE submitted, Save Prospect countered with another expert showing flaws in the study and providing testimony as to how turbines in other areas negatively impacted nearby residents.

Now it’s up to the Siting Council to weigh the merits of the green energy project against the concerns of local residents.

Recently, the Siting Council came under fire when Save Prospect lawyer Jeffrey Tinley reported ex parte communication with council chair Daniel Caruso.

By law, members of the council are not allowed to discuss the merits of any petition under review outside of official council proceedings.

In a letter to Siting Council Executive Director Linda Roberts, Tinley claimed that Caruso approached him to discuss, among other issues, how they would be able to make a decision by the May 16 deadline, and advised him to suggest mitigating measures that could be taken to reduce impact on neighbors if the project was approved.

Caruso resigned in response to the letter, saying he would not allow even the appearance of impropriety to take precedence over the task of the council. In a response letter, Caruso said the conversation with Tinley was meant to be informative and help opponents of the wind project understand how the council works.

“This brief conversation was procedural only,” Caruso wrote.

Following Caruso’s resignation, Governor Dannel Malloy appointed Robert “Robin” Stein of Stamford to be a member of the Connecticut Siting Council.

Despite Caruso’s resignation, members of the opposition called into question past motions the council approved under his leadership, saying they couldn’t know if his bias has affected the council’s decisions.

“Our concern was that the process might not be fair,” said Tim Reilly, president of Save Prospect.

Fairwind CT, a turbine opposition group from Colebrook, where BNE is proposing several more turbines in a separate petition, asked the council to throw out the proceedings on the Prospect project as a mistrial. However, during the last evidentiary hearing March 31, the council reapproved their previous decisions and rejected the request for mistrial.

In response to questions from the Department of Environmental Protection (DEP), BNE amended their application to help mitigate some of the DEP’s concerns.

To help reduce the visual impact of the turbines, BNE stated in testimony filed March 28 that they would plant evergreens and shrubs on the property and reimburse nearby home owners for the cost of screening.

Opponents of the project raised concerns that blasting on the site could disturb a nearby brown field and contaminate the ground water. BNE said, in its testimony, that if blasting was necessary, which they didn’t expect it to be, they would conduct pre and post-blasting surveys of ground water conditions.

In response to DEP concerns about the turbines’ impact on wildlife, BNE also promised to report any observations of eastern box turtles and perform a migratory bird study and additional bat monitoring on the site.

BNE also stated that it would provide post-construction noise monitoring on the site for two years to provide additional information on the noise produced by the wind turbines at the property boundary near the adjacent homes.

BNE also proposed an alternate location for one of their turbines, which would set it back 920 from the nearest residence.

The council has the authority to place restrictions or request any amendments to the petition that they see fit. Even though the council approves 97 percent of the applications before it, it usually requests changes to the original application before approval.

Members of the public have until May 30 to submit comments, according to Siting Council Executive Director Linda Roberts. Now that the evidentiary hearing is over, analysts Christina Walsh and Robert Mercier, outside analysts to help them understand the intricacies of siting commercial wind turbines, will submit their draft findings of fact.

The council will review the report during workshops scheduled for April 19 and May 2. The public may attend, but will not be allowed to comment.

If the council decides to grant BNE’s petition, Reilly has vowed to appeal the decision.

“I will go as far as the U.S. Supreme Court if that’s what it takes,” he said.

Representatives from BNE declined to say whether they would appeal the process if the decision was not made in their favor.

During the last evidentiary hearing, Reilly said he thought things were going well.

“Today, for the first time, I saw the council not in unison on some of the motions,” he said.

As both parties wait for the council’s decision, legislation to put a moratorium on all commercial wind projects until regulations are developed is sitting in the Connecticut House of Representatives, waiting to be debated. The legislation, proposed by State Rep. Vickie Nardello and State Sen. Joan Hartley, both of Prospect, was passed out of the Energy and Technology Committee in February, but has not yet been discussed by the general assembly.