HARTFORD – Don Quixote may not need to do battle with his hulking giants anytime soon if opponents of proposed wind turbine projects in Prospect and Colebrook have their way.
A new bill before the General Assembly’s Energy and Technology Committee would stall wind turbine projects until the Connecticut Siting Council adopts regulations specific to commercial wind turbines.
The committee met Jan. 3 to consider the moratorium which state Rep. Vickie Nardello (D-Prospect) and state Sen. Joan Hartley (D-Prospect) introduced in response to concerns over the projects proposed by BNE Energy, Inc. of West Hartford.
The two, 492-foot tall, 1.6 megawatt turbines the company hopes to build in Prospect would be the first of their kind in the state.
“It’s important to take these things into consideration to make sure both the towns and the developers know what’s expected,” Nardello said.
During the seven hour public hearing, the committee heard from about 70 people, including the chairman of BNE Energy, members of Save Prospect Corp. and FairWindCT, and other environmental groups and trade and labor associations.
The bill asks the Siting Council to consider minimum setbacks from neighboring properties, shadow flicker, a requirement to decommission the facility at the end of its life, different requirements for projects of different sizes, ice throw, blade shear, impact on natural resources, and a requirement for a public hearing for wind turbine projects.
Barbara Currier Bell, a member of the Siting Council, said the council has the experience and expertise necessary to process commercial wind applications without additional regulations.
“Adequate regulations and guidelines are in place,” Bell said.
Although the council does not have regulations specific to wind projects, they consider the impact of the environment and community for any petition that comes before them, Bell said.
She said the council has hired an independent consultant to advise them on wind issues.
“We seek the advice of experts,” she said.
Bell said the council has a very open process and posts all submitted documents on their website.
In response to a question from Beacon Falls state Rep. Len Greene, Bell said drafting regulations specific to wind turbines would be outside the council’s normal procedures.
“For good judgment, you need some flexibility,” Bell said.
Michael Libertine, who has testified before the Siting Council for over 100 projects including Wind Prospect, supported Bell’s statements.
“I can attest that each project placed before them is given the appropriate level of scrutiny to ensure that facilities are sited in suitable locations. In my experience, the council conducts a thorough investigation of the technical and environmental issues associated with often controversial projects, while balancing the needs of all stakeholders,” Libertine said.
Opponents of the projects argued those general guidelines are not adequate to protect residents near the site, while those in favor of it opined that the moratorium would kill the current and future wind projects in the state.
“I know the federal government and the state government are putting their arms around green energy. They have to have a certain percentage in a certain number of years, but nobody thought of regulations on where to put these and how far from neighborhoods. … We’re looking for something to get some time so that regulations can be adopted. … No two sites are the same and that should be taken into consideration when the rules and regulations are made,” Prospect Mayor Bob Chatfield said.
Tim Reilly, president of Save Prospect, whose resident group now numbers about 500, said he was ecstatic to get the opportunity to present his case to the council.
“We think in the open forum, we’ll win,” he said.
About 25 people from Save Prospect and its sister group in Colebrook, FairWindCT testified at the meeting.
During his speech, Reilly said that turbines should not be sited near residential neighborhoods. Current plans for Prospect site the turbines about 800 feet from the nearest home.
He told the story of a local boy with epilepsy and bi-polar disorder who would suffer from the constant whooshing sound some turbines produce. Several other residents with problems with seizures, vertigo, and debilitating migraines also expressed concern about the health effects of the turbines.
Opponents of the moratorium were afraid current wind projects could lose federal money and it would kill future wind energy in the state
“In fact, if a moratorium is imposed by the Connecticut legislature, you can be assured that the wind industry in the state will be devastated and likely never recover,” Paul Corey of BNE said.
He cited other turbines throughout New England that have been built near homes and schools. Corey said other developers are watching closely to see what happens with BNE’s projects before investing in the state, and wind turbines would help the state meet its goal of 27 percent renewable energy by 2020. He argued that turbines are safe, reliable and have minimal impacts.
“Wind turbines are not evil, they are not giant monsters invading our homes and ruining our way of life,” Corey said.
John Olsen, vice chair of the Connecticut Clean Energy Fund said he has been supporting the wind projects for the past two years as BNE conducted studies on the proposed site.
The fund allocated $1 million in loans to BNE to get the project off its feet, Olsen said.
Prior to receiving the funds, BNE submitted letters of support from Chatfield and First Selectman [Thomas] McKeon of Colebrook, according to Olsen.
He said that BNE has already addressed many issues, including sound, shadow flicker, and ice throw during its two year study.
He said that local officials and residents will have an opportunity to voice their concerns before the Siting Council during scheduled public hearings in Prospect Feb. 23 and 24.
“Clearly, there’s an extensive process in place today for developing wind and other renewable projects in the state,” Olsen said.
Olsen said Federal tax credits will expire if the project is not under way within a year.
“If those credits run out, we actually make these projects not affordable to do,” he said. “If we slow down these projects, we turn around and kill the incentives coming from the federal government that they need to make these things happen. Therefore, we have half a million out the door already. I think that slowing things is equal to kill. It’s also killing jobs and goes against everything that we worked on so far,” Olsen said.
Olsen said $250,000 in pre-development money would be lost if regulations blocked the project.
“I guarantee there’s no regulation you will accept except it can’t be in your back yard,” Olsen said.
Olsen, who is also President of the Connecticut American Federation of Labor and Congress of Industrial Organizations, said the delay would also lead to a loss of jobs.
Several Prospect residents also spoke out in opposition to the moratorium, saying the supported green energy in their town and welcomed the tax revenue and jobs it would bring in.
After the hearing, Greene said he was disappointed to see that the energy committee would raise a bill that was in direct conflict with what they hope to accomplish in terms of increasing renewable energy in the state.
Less than a year after the energy committee itself proposed the large bill which included subsidies for wind energy, they are considering nixing their plans with a moratorium, according to Greene.
Although it is important to make sure people are safe, Greene said he thought the current regulations the Siting Council abides by are sufficient.
“If we were to adopt specific regulations for wind, it would be going above and beyond anything else that they site,” Greene said.
If they pass the moratorium, the state won’t be able to reach its green energy goals, Greene said.
“I really do believe that a moratorium would be detrimental to the wind industry in the state of Connecticut,” Greene said.
Greene said the committee is expected to vote on the legislation in the next month or so.