Connecticut's First Wind Farm Proposed In Colebrook
Some residents concerned about noise, other impacts.
Connecticut has only a handful of small wind turbines…none of them big enough to feed the grid. But thatmay be about to change.
As WNPR’s Nancy Cohen reports, A Delaware company has filed a petition with the state to build three wind turbines, that could be part of Connecticut’s first commercial wind farm.
It would be a small farm ..but a wind farm nonetheless, with wind turbines that could generate a total 9.6 megawatts of electricity.
If approved it could become the state’s biggest wind project. And it’s proposed for the small, rural town of Colebrook.
“It’s tucked away and kind of hidden. Lot of people don’t even know where we are.”
That’s Thomas McKeon. Colebrook’s first selectman.
“I’m in favor of it. I think it’s a good idea. I think its good for the town. Financially it’s very good for the town.”
If the wind farm is built, the developer, BNE Energy would become Colebrook’s biggest taxpayer. The company predicts it would pay $430,000 in taxes a year.
The project does not need local zoning approval. The Connecticut Siting Council is charged with approving or rejecting the project. The Council can also decide whether to hold a public hearing.
The electricity from the project won’t power the town directly, but will feed the grid. Even so Paul Corey Chairman of BNE Energy, says the 6 turbines could bring a sense of pride to the town.
“We will be generating enough electricity to power the town of Colebrook four times over. So they can say truly that they are the greenest town certainly in Connecticut.”
Besides Colebrook, BNE Energy is also proposing wind turbines in Prospect .
Wind projects are considered “green” because once a turbine is built it has no greenhouse gas emissions. Unlike nuclear, coal and oil-burning plants wind turbines don’t use any water that has to be discharged into rivers and coastal areas. And wind is a renewable resource.
But finding a site that’s windy enough in Connecticut isn’t easy. Paul Corey says wind speeds are fast enough in Colebrook
“It’s high elevation property. The property is over 1500 feet above sea level on certain portions of the property.”
At it’s highest point, the proposed turbine would rise nearly 500 feet above that.
The higher a turbine is off the ground the more electricity it can produce. But a higher elevation also means a more visible location. Some residents, who are closest to the Colebrook site, are concerned about its proximity.
“I’ll show you here on the map...”
For 23 years, Eva Villanova has lived just below one of the wooded hilltops in Colebrook where BNE wants to erect three of the turbines. Her house burned down in August, but she plans to rebuild on the same site.
“We are right here. And how far is that to the closest turbine? I will be at 1400 feet. Next door will be at 1500.”
And she says another neighbor’s house is even closer.
The distance between a resident and a turbine is critical. Not only because of what people see, but what they might hear. Eva Villanova says her family moved to this street because it’s quiet.
“It’s a dead end. At the end of the road it turns into trails. As you can see there’s no traffic. And we cannot even conceive of the noise.”
Noise from turbines has been a big problem for a small number of residents who live close to other wind projects. They report sound has disturbed their sleep and in some cases caused other health effects. The Maine Department of Environmental Protection just concluded the project on Vinalhaven Island exceeds noise regulations and is ordering the developer to come up with a plan to fix the problem.
Connecticut doesn’t regulate the distance between residents and turbines. And the industry itself doesn’t have hard standards. But Shawn Shaw, a wind energy consultant who’s worked with the state, says there’s been some thinking on it
“The general rule of thumb is you want to start off by putting turbine about 3 times its total height away from the nearest residences.”
Shaw also says developers should do extensive studies to determine whether turbines will create sound above ambient levels. BNE says sound from the project will be below levels set by Colebrook’s noise ordinance.
It will also meet general noise standards set by the Department of Environmental Protection, but there are no state guidelines specifically for the noise coming from wind turbines.
Some residents have also raised questions about shadow flickering...when a spinning turbine casts moving shadows on a house. Corey says his company has studied the issue and no flickering would affect nearby homes.
BNE says they’re also trying to minimize the harm to birds and bats. Other wind projects have been held up because of the impact on wildlife.
Shawn Shaw suggests developers speak to neighbors as early in the process as possible.
“Even an unjustified concern is enough to either halt a project or delay it or make it prohibitively expensive so it’s important to educate the community. By educate I don’t mean make a lot of sales pitches. I mean really educate the community about what the impacts of these turbines are.”
But even with education there’s still a big challenge for supporters of wind: how to reconcile local negative impacts with the broader benefits.
For WNPR, I’m Nancy Cohen.