NEW BRITAIN – After months of research and over $100,000 spent on legal fees and experts, the hard work has finally paid off for members of Save Prospect who fought to protect what they saw as their quality of life.
The Connecticut Siting Council voted 6-2 on May 12 to deny BNE Energy’s petition to build two 1.6 megawatt commercial wind turbines in Prospect.
Despite health and safety concerns from the project’s opponents, the decision turned on visual impacts.
The two, 463 foot turbines would be visible from 50 residences year-round and 248 residences seasonally.
“Given the mass of the turbine towers, the height of the turbine hubs, the height and rotation of the blades and lack of an effective means of visual mitigation, the Council finds a substantial adverse visual impact sufficient to deny the proposed project,” wrote the council in its opinion.
After the vote, opponents of the Wind Prospect project in the audience applauded.
“We’re very happy,” said Fred Bonyai, who lives near the proposed site. “I didn’t believe it would ever happen because I thought it was a done deal. I guess the council listened to us and the made the right decision.”
Tim Rielly, President of Save Prospect Corp. said the council did the right thing.
“It’s nice to see a small group of people who fight for their cause against big government and end up winning,” Reilly said.
He said he looked forward to being able to hang out in his back yard and leave the windows open at night without having to worry about the noise and sight of the turbines.
“To us now, the American dream is still alive,” Reilly said.
Rich Sargeant, who lives about 1,700 feet away from the site on Radio Tower Road, said it was astonishing to see a simulation of how big the turbines would look from his front door.
“We’re not looking to stop wind energy in Connecticut. We just want to have it done correctly so people aren’t adversely affected,” Sargeant said.
Even though the council sited visual impact as the main reason they denied the petition, Reilly said he still believes that the noise would have a health impact.
Sargeant agreed that the noise was still a big concern. He said he didn’t believe BNE’s noise studies were very accurate, especially at night, when the wind blows the hardest and people are trying to sleep.
Sargeant said the site tour and listening to residents at public hearings in Prospect had a big impact on the council’s decision.
Representatives from BNE said they were disappointed with the council’s decision.
“It’s troubling that the Siting Council would shoot down a wind project because people don’t want to see them off in the distance,” BNE Chairman Paul Corey said .
BNE President and CEO Gregory Zupkus said the council’s decision was a major blow to the future of wind energy in Connecticut.
“This is a real bad message sent to renewable energy,” Zupkus said.
Even though the Prospect project was denied, Zupkus said he is still optimistic that his company’s two other petitions for wind projects in Colebrook will be accepted.
“There’s no denying that wind energy is the right energy source for the future. The question just becomes is whether Connecticut can accept it and make it a part of Connecticut’s future.”
After over 250 fact findings in favor of the project, Zupkus said it was a shame it was rejected because people don’t want to look at the turbines.
Zupkus, who lives in Prospect, said many of his neighbors supported the project.
“This is just a small NIMBY anti-wind crowd that disagree with it,” Zupkus said.
BNE representatives said they didn’t want to comment on whether they would appeal the case.
Several members of the council expressed their understanding of the complexities of the issue and difficulty in making a decision.
They said their decision only applied to the unique characteristics of the Prospect proposal.
“I don’t want this to be an end of wind turbine projects in Connecticut,” council member Daniel Lynch said .
Brian Golembiewski, designee of the Department of Environmental Protection, said a smaller scale project could still be viable on the site.
One of two dissenting voters, Ken Braffman, designee of Department of Public Utility Control, said the proposal is in accordance with the law as it is now, even if it’s not how the council wished it would be.
The other dissenting vote, Council Chair Robert Stein said that the issues and resident’s concerns have to be balanced against legal requirements.
“I feel this project should be approved,” he said.
He said he looked at whom and what the council was trying to protect, how serious the issues were, how many people would be impacted, how frequently and what mitigation was possible.
In the case of ice throw, Stein said that although it was a potentially serious threat, mitigation made the likelihood of it hurting anyone highly improbable.
The council found that the project would not produce any air emissions or greenhouse gas, have no adverse impact on water quality, would not disturb wetlands and would not adversely impact birds. In the council’s opinion, shadow flicker is a potential annoyance rather than a health threat and could be mitigated using greenery and blinds.
The council’s opinion did state that noise is a serious concern, but that the project would meet Connecticut DEP allowable limits. However, the council noted that some health professionals are challenging the adequacy of state regulations and that mitigation of noise issues would be difficult and costly.
After brushing aside most of the issues brought up in the case, the only one left was visual impact. The council found that the turbines would be visible from many homes and attract attention because of their movement. Although BNE said it would plant trees along the property line to help shield the sight of the turbines from their neighbors, the council found such mitigation would not be effective.
Stein said that even though some people had described the turbines’ size as monstrous, visual impact does not affect health or safety.
On the other side, council member Philip Ashton said he was very worried about the impact of the turbines on surrounding neighborhoods. He said he was very much aware of the precedent the council would be setting in the Wind Prospect decision.
“We all felt an obligation to do it right the first time,” Ashton said.
Council Vice-Chair Colin Tait recused himself from the vote as per BNE’s request because he is involved in a group opposed to the wind projects in Colebrook. He said he had been impartial, but wanted to avoid any appearance of impropriety.
Another request for Stein to abstain because he came into the process late, replacing former Chair Daniel Caruso, was denied. Stein said he’d done his homework, read all the transcripts, and did not have any pre-judge position.