Windy prospects in Connecticut

The future of large-scale wind power for the state of Connecticut is up in the air.

A plan for two 1.6-megawatt turbines in Prospect, Conn., has been proposed that would bring the first commercial-level turbines to the otherwise wind-sparse state. However, it is potentially threatened by a state bill debated two weeks ago calling for a moratorium on all wind power development until the creation of legislative regulations. Though the construction of the proposed turbines could provide enough power to the state’s power grid for hundreds of homes each year, the project will have to overcome a lack of precedent — unlike other New England states such as Massachusetts, Connecticut has seen only small-scale projects, while the city of New Haven has yet to construct a turbine of its own.

DISSENT IN PROSPECT

Greg Zupkus, one of the founders of BNE Energy Inc. — the development company that is proposing the project — said that he submitted the plan to construct two commercial-sized, three-bladed turbines on a 68-acre plot of land west of Prospect, Conn., in November. But the continuation of production plans for the turbines has been brought into question by a recent bill introduced by Democratic State Rep. Vickie Nardello and State Sen. Joan Hartley on Jan. 3 that would suspend further wind power development until state regulations are established.

“The use and expansion of renewable energy should not come at the expense of Connecticut, either financially or to the health of the people,” said U.S. Senator Richard Blumenthal in his testimony to the Energy and Technology Committee.

Almost 60 individuals, including Blumenthal and almost a dozen residents of Prospect, have submitted testimony to the committee against the proposal.

“I’ve been amazed by the small group of folks who are opposed to this project,” Prospect resident Derek Brown said in testimony. “I favor the tax revenue and economic development that wind energy will bring our town.”

Zupkus was more critical of the bill.

“It’s just a way of the anti-wind crowd trying to stop wind projects,” he said. “It’s the wrong message for the state to change the rules in the middle of the process.”

Tim Reilly, a high school teacher in Prospect who formed the Save Prospect Corporation to combat the implementation of wind power, said that it was within residents’ rights to make these decisions.

“Shouldn’t the state’s residents make the decisions on how we can all reduce the carbon footprint?” he said in his testimony to the energy committee.

Reilly said that he is not looking to stop wind energy, but to make sure it is regulated.

POTENTIAL AS A WIND STATE

With dense, humid sea air that is great for turbines and a location at over 800 feet above sea level — higher than any other town in New Haven County — the town presents one of the best places to secure renewable windpower, he said.

Zupkus said that during windy conditions, his 1.6-megawatt turbines could generate up to 85 percent of the town’s energy usage and 25 percent on average, and become the city’s biggest taxpayer “overnight” — with $400,000 in tax revenue for a town budget of about $4.5 million.

“If we don’t build that in Connecticut, our money goes to fund projects in other states,” Zupkus says. “That’s something people don’t realize.”

In 2007, Zupkus said he realized that Connecticut was the only New England state without commercial wind. If approved, his two turbines in Prospect — along with six more 1.6 megawatt turbines in the nearby city of Colebrook, Conn. — would be among first turbines generating more than one megawatt of electricity in the state.

“We believe that wind is one of the better renewables out there,” Zupkus said. “It’s no accident that it’s the fastest growing renewable energy in the world.”

But Zupkus added that Connecticut does not have the same potential for wind as other New England states. It is small and hilly, while turbines must be built close to the state’s power grid and usable roads, said Zupkus.

Another drawback is that during the winter, turbines can collect ice on their blades and throw them, a process known as ice throw, said Zupkus. However, this issue present minimal to no impact at all, he said.

Noise, which is difficult to measure due to changing wind direction through the blades, is another problem with the turbines. But Zupkus says his turbines would not violate daytime or nighttime noise limits in Prospect.

“It’s about as loud as a refrigerator running,” he said. “I’ve been to [the] site where I’m next to one and someone starts a lawnmower, and you can’t hear the turbine.”

But in spite of all these challenges, the most lasting issue for Connecticut’s wind power may be a lack of commercial precedent.

If [the turbines at Prospect and Colebrook] move forward, I think you’ll see a lot of other small-scale turbines where they make sense,” he said. “So if you sprinkle those, you start to have something meaningful.”

EXISTING TURBINES IN THE STATE

One existing Connecticut turbine near Quinnipiac Park powers a printing shop called Phoenix Press. Brian Driscoll said that he and his brother Kevin received partial funding for the $500,000 project to build a turbine to help power their print shop. Though the shop still needs the power grid for some of its energy, and even though Driscoll said he hadn’t compiled his yearly figures, he said that in the year and a half since the turbine’s installation, his monthly bills have dropped. He’s also received hundreds of questions, and given tours to over 1,000 kids and teachers.

Driscoll said he also loves the turbine’s look so much that he would not be averse to one in his neighborhood.

“They’re moving pieces of sculpture,” he said. “They don’t ruin the views, they actually improve the views.”

Zupkus said Driscoll’s project is a great example to launch from.

PLANS FOR WIND IN NEW HAVEN

In the New Haven area, there are only a few scattered turbines, and all are small scale. Glenn Weston-Murphy, a Yale engineering designs adviser and founder of a research group for Connecticut wind power, said that these include the 10 one-kilowatt turbines sit on the roof of Yale’s Becton Engineering and Applied Science Center.

But as for the rest of New Haven, progress has been extremely limited. Karen Gilvarg, the executive director of New Haven’s City Plan Department, said that two recent plans for wind power — including a turbine that would power the Sound School and a demonstration project at Longwharf Pier — have fallen short of completion.

Only one project, a turbine at the Greater New Haven Water Pollution Control Authority on East Shore, is still pending approval.

Meanwhile, Zupkus is hopeful about two other sites in Connecticut. But those sites are far from proposals, and it could be at least two years before his work can be reviewed by the Siting Council, he said.

Zupkus estimates that throughout the state, there may be 50-60 megawatts of energy that could be harnessed by wind power.

The project for the Prospect turbines will be debated on Feb. 23 at a public hearing in Prospect.

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