If it takes two turbines to have a farm, Connecticut has finally joined the rest of the northeast and most of the country -- barely -- with its first commercial wind farm, capping a long controversy in Colebrook.
The twin, General Electric turbines just off Route 44 in the bucolic northwest Connecticut town will be switched on any day now, developer Gregory Zupkus said. Each tower, 492 feet tall at the highest swipe of its three thin blades, will generate just under 2.5 megawatts at peak output.
The developer, BNE Energy, has a contract for Eversource to buy the 5 megawatts, and Zupkus said he hopes to win a purchase deal that would enable a third turbine at the same site, which was approved by the state.
Late Thursday morning, Zupkus, his business partner, their lenders from the Connecticut Green Bank, Webster Bank and others gathered at the site to celebrate the moment, as engineers continued to test and fine-tune the turbines. For Zupkus, it was the culmination of more than 15 years of dreaming and planning, stretching back to the time he saw a row of wind turbines on a hillside in Donnegal, Ireland, on a visit to his ancestral homeland.
"We're very excited, we were optimistic for years. This is it," Zupkus said Wednesday night. "I personally think they're beautiful and a lot of people have been coming up to see them."
The beauty of the white turbines is not a view shared by everyone. Opponents, including neighbors who formed the group FairWindCT, took their fight all the way to the state Supreme Court, which decided in BNE's favor last year.
Joyce Hemingson, a Colebrook resident and head of FairWindCT, was not aware of Thursday's event when I spoke with her Wednesday night, but said she was quite aware of the turbines, which BNE finished erecting on August 6.
"They're quite visible," Hemingson said. "it's what we expected it to be based on wind farms elsewhere and it really is a matter of time before people understand the effects of having homes so close to them."
We can call this a split decision, overall. The Connecticut Siting Council, which has purview over energy projects, sided with opponents in rejecting BNE's bid for a wind farm in Prospect. FairWindCT also had a role in state regulations that require distances from each turbine to the owners' property lines -- rules that didn't apply to the Colebrook site.
There was no sign of opponents Thursday on a dirt mound in the shadow of one of the turbines, off a road under construction, beneath a deep blue sky. A steady wind, fittingly, tousled the hair of speakers, including state Rep. Themis Klarides, the Republican House leader, who appluaded BNE's years of work.
"This is a perfect example of people who had a vision," Klarides said, "and kept at that vision until it came to fruition."
The two turbines are down from an original plan for three, generating roughly the same power. In the time it took to duke this issue out, GE came up with turbines the same size that are more powerful and very slightly quieter.
A second set of three turbines farther north in Colebrook was also approved by the state but Zupkus said the firm has no immediate plans to build it.
"We have the capability to make wind power a leading source of energy in our state and this project will demonstrate wind power's compatibility with Connecticut's renewable energy," said Paul Corey, Zupkus' partner, and chairman of BNE Energy.
Wind power will remain only a small part of efforts to generate cleaner electricity, as the state consumes something in the range of 6,000 megawatts on a hot summer day. But small pieces matter, as we saw in Bloomfield on Thursday, where the Pepperidge Farm commercial bakery marked what it called "the largest solar installation at a manufacturing site in Connecticut and the second largest in New England."
BNE won't say how much they spent on Colebrook South, but the financing includes a $14.9 million construction loan from Webster, a $2 million loan from the Connecticut Green Bank and $5.6 million from a California bank tied to federal tax credits.
Wind power doesn't pay for itself yet on the open market; rather, taxpayers and ratepayers make up the difference in bidding for contracts, in an effort to expand the technology.
Hemingson and other opponents say that for all the cost, most wind farms in New England generate less than a third of their rated power overall, because the wind doesn't blow all the time.
Fights can and should continue over noise, bird kills and proximity to houses, and that alone will keep the number of turbines down in densely populated Connecticut. But as for the argument about scenic vistas from a distance, that should, by now, be settled. As a drive through Pennsylvania's eastern ridges shows, wind turbines are here to stay.
They do seem to have a sort of Teletubbies look about them and could almost fit into a 19th century folk art painting. As BNE cranked up one of the turbines during testing Thursday, the gathering of reporters and officials could hear a soft crackling sound, like a rain stick, followed by a noise similar to the wind itself.
The percussive sounds of firearms at a nearby gun club punctuated the scene.
This is the first project for Zupkus and Corey, who attended the same elementary school in Waterbury. They say they're looking at other sites in Connecticut and an option to buy land in Vermont.
For now, it's a curiosity in a state that's late into the game. "We basically caused a tourism problem," Zupkus said, with peole coming to the windy hill to see the turbines over the last several weeks.