In 1998, Connecticut became one of the first states in the nation to establish renewable portfolio standards that mandate the amount of electricity that must come from renewable sources like wind, solar and fuel cells. And in 2010, the General Assembly rejected a proposal to roll back those standards, keeping the state on track to have 27 percent of energy used here generated by renewable sources by the year 2010.

With that legislative history, Connecticut’s elected officials and policy makers seemed to have sent a strong message that clean, renewable energy projects were welcome in the state. With energy prices some of the highest in the nation, lawmakers encouraged the development of renewable energy to move the state in the direction of sustainable alternatives to fossil fuel-fired energy plants.

What a surprise then, to see the opposition to BNE Energy’s proposal to install two wind turbines in Prospect and six in Colebrook. Opponents claim to support renewable energy, just not in their back yards and their towns.

So where is an acceptable site for a wind turbine? Every other state in New England has commercial wind turbines. In Massachusetts, several are installed at schools.

Yet opponents here say the proposals to install turbines on two vast undeveloped tracts are too close, too big, too noisy and too dangerous to wildlife. What the state really needs, they argue, are more regulations to ensure all of these issues are addressed.

But the Connecticut Siting Council, which has jurisdiction over the siting of energy producing facilities, power lines, hazardous waste facilities, and telecommunication towers has a detailed and thorough process. While the Council’s guidelines do not specifically mention wind turbines, the application process requires consideration of all of the safety and health concerns, and environmental and neighborhood impacts that opponents have raised.
Indeed, BNE Energy has submitted, and the Council has publicly discussed, details on the set back from nearby homes and studies of impact on birds, bats, and wild life; ice buildup, removal and throw from moving and stilled turbines; visual and sound analysis; and the flicker of sunlight through moving turbine blades; and how the construction and maintenance will affect the woods and wetlands that surround the turbines.

So are the opponents looking to make these projects better and safer, or do they simply seek to stop them completely? And if we are truly concerned about reducing dependence on fossil fuels and finding cheaper, renewable alternatives, where do we expect it to come from?

At least one person who testified at the public hearing on the Prospect wind project may have hit the nail on the head when he suggested that opponents seem to want convenience of reliable energy without paying any real price.

A resident of Bridgeport who lives near a coal burning plant, the man said he would happily trade the belching filth in his back yard for a wind turbine.

He pointed out that on the hottest days in the summer, when the very people opposing the wind turbines wanted to turn on their air conditioning and run the dishwasher, his neighborhood paid the price when the energy plant revved up to meet the additional consumer demand.

The proposed wind turbines might not eliminate the need for the energy plant, but he told the Council that the addition of clean renewable energy is a great start, and if he could put one in his neighborhood, he would.

Daniel Barnhart; resident of Collinsville and owner of Barnhart & Barnhart General Contracting, serving the northwest corner of Connecticut.