September 16, 2014

CT's first commercial wind project wins legal battle

Photo | Contributed
Photo | Contributed
As U.S. federal officials look to expand wind energy, Connecticut's dense population and environmental concerns will likely preclude many wind farms, like the one shown here, from being built in the state.

West Hartford renewable energy developer BNE Energy is cleared to build three wind turbines in Colebrook, after a Connecticut Supreme Court ruling on Monday ended a three-year legal battle.

This will be the first commercial wind project in Connecticut.

BNE had proposed six turbines for two projects in Colebrook and another two turbines in nearby Prospect. The Connecticut Siting Council, which approves electricity generating facilities, denied the Prospect proposal but upheld the Colebrook proposal.

A group of Northwest Connecticut residents, who had formed a turbine opposition group called FairWindCT, then filed a lawsuit against the Siting Council's approval of the Colebrook turbines, saying the council made several errors in its approval of the petition.

The trial court dismissed FairWindCT's lawsuit, and on Monday, the Connecticut Supreme Court upheld that dismissal, saying all of the errors made by the Siting Council were harmless.

FairWindCT does not plan on further appealing the ruling, as it would next have to go to the U.S. Supreme Court, said Nicholas Harding, attorney with Hartford law firm Reid & Riege, who represented FairWindCT.

"The reality of the decision is that of the six turbines BNE Energy wants to build, they can build three of them," Harding said.

The other three turbines in Colebrook still are waiting for approval from the U.S. Army Corps. of Engineers.

"Right now we are focusing on Colebrook south," said Paul Corey, BNE chairman. "Once we are done with south, then we will turn our attention to the north project."

BNE will propose some mitigation measures to satisfy surrounding land owners and get the Army Corps. approval, Corey said. Mitigation measures could include items like planting trees.

The vocal opposition that surrounded BNE's proposed turbines led the Connecticut legislature in 2011 to ban the development of new wind turbines until the Siting Council wrote specific regulations on the technology. Since the Colebrook turbines were approved before legislature approved the ban, the project could have proceeded, if not for its legal battle.

The ban on new wind turbines was lifted earlier this year after the legislature approved the Siting Council's proposed regulations.

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