Towns like solar, concerned about cost

By Rachael Scarborough King, Register Staff
Aug. 31, 2008

With a task force’s recent recommendation that the Guilford school district build a new high school and eventually replace Elisabeth C. Adams Middle School, the town could be facing hundreds of millions of dollars in construction in coming years.

And with town residents footing much of the bill, every dollar counts. That fact can make it difficult for towns to go forward with projects that have alternative energy systems, which include significant up-front costs.

But with energy prices making a larger dent in town budgets, alternative energy is figuring more prominently in discussions for new building projects and retrofitting existing facilities. The state’s Clean Energy Fund offers incentives that can cover up to half the cost of purchasing and installing solar power systems, and officials said they are seeing more towns taking advantage of the assistance.

Guilford Board of Education Chairman William Bloss said energy efficiency has been an important part of discussions about the possible replacement or renovation of the high school and middle school.

“Everyone understands the problem of the large up-front costs versus the long-term savings,” Bloss said. “It depends on whether we’re as a community and as a society going to look at the future in one-year slices, or are we going to look at it in decades-long slices, and long-term planning requires a recognition that there is something beyond 2009.”

As the Board of Education prepares for a decision on how to proceed — which it is scheduled to make Sept. 15 — members have been holding item-by-item discussions on how to prioritize resources. The project will eventually go before voters as a bond resolution.

“I’m sure there are people who would be much more likely to support a project if it was green and there are some people who couldn’t care less probably, they just want a decent room and the green aspects of it are not that important,” Bloss said. “Ultimately what happens is going to be the will of the people, so I guess we’ll find out how important it is.”

A recent policy from the Board of Selectmen requires town agencies and commissions to consider green building for new projects. The policy, passed this month, “endorses the principle that long-term cost/benefit considerations shall be considered over short-term budgetary goals in municipal decision-making” and directs officials to include energy efficiency and renewable energy measures in their planning.

North Branford Town Manager Richard Branigan said it seems that such measures have become increasingly important in the past year. While the plans for the renovate-as-new project at North Branford Intermediate School, which is under construction, do not include renewable energy sources, Branigan said the town is seriously considering solar and geothermal energy for replacing Atwater Memorial Library, scheduled to begin next spring.

Branigan said that incentives from the state, as well as the United Illuminating Co., may make it economically feasible to pursue alternative energy sources.

“Energy costs in general have skyrocketed over the last year or so beyond what people would have predicted safely a couple of years ago, so there’s definitely an incentive to look at it now more than a couple of years ago,” he said.

But the Town Council, while directing the architects to look into alternative-energy options, has stressed the importance of sticking to the project’s $4.7 million budget. The town is rebuilding Edward Smith Library in Northford, which does not use alternative energy.

“That is the challenge to try and keep it within the budget and to look at the alternatives, and there isn’t a lot of money to go around for these types of things,” he said. “Fortunately, for solar at least, there are some funds available at the state level and between that and the incentives potentially that may be offered by UI, it may make it worth our while to go forward with it.”

Branigan said that, based on early estimates, the up-front costs of the renewable energy sources could take anywhere from two to 10 years to pay back the investment.

Bob Wall, director of energy market initiatives with the Connecticut Clean Energy Fund, said that many schools are now installing solar panels on existing buildings. The Clean Energy Fund, which was set up by the General Assembly, can cover about 50 percent of the cost of such projects.

Wall said that solar panels typically cost from $7,000 to $8,500 per kilowatt, depending on the size of the project. For a school’s energy needs, that can translate to an investment of hundreds of thousands of dollars.

“A typical commercial user might not get payback for nine to 12 years or so, but by combining our incentives with the Department of Education (which also offers some incentives), you can really reduce that to something in the three to seven years or less,” he said.

He added that 83 out of Connecticut’s 169 cities and towns are now participating in the fund’s Clean Energy Communities program, meaning that they have made a pledge to obtain at least 20 percent of their electricity from “clean, renewable sources” by 2010. In addition, starting in January, any school project receiving money from the state will need to conform to certain energy efficiency standards.

“We certainly live in a time where energy costs are putting a lot of pressure on municipal governments,” he said. “It may be that there are some districts that decide that this is unfortunately not an option they can pursue at this time, but those taking a longer view recognize this is an important symbol of a school’s commitment to sustainability. … Ultimately we’d like to see all the new school construction have at least some renewable systems.”

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Dems loving some Langston Hughes

I was pretty (dorkishly) excited by all the references to “A Dream Deferred” at the DNC this week – Obama’s Thursday night was the third I saw just during the prime-time speeches. It’s funny because all through this election I’ve kept thinking of another Hughes poem, which I find even more heartbreaking than the more famous one:

“Children’s Rhymes”

By what sends
The white kids
I ain’t sent:
I know I can’t
Be President.
What don’t bug
Them white kids
Sure bugs me:
We know everybody
Ain’t free.

Lies written down
For white folks
Ain’t for us a-tall:
Liberty And Justice;
Huh! For All?

Police probing man’s death in Old Saybrook

By Rachael Scarborough King, Register Staff
Aug. 28, 2008

OLD SAYBROOK — Police Wednesday were continuing to investigate the death of a man found in a Bliss Street home Tuesday, although the chief medical examiner’s office has found the man died of natural causes.

The police department received a call at about 2 p.m. Tuesday about an unconscious and unresponsive person in a house at 14 Bliss St., near the Old Saybrook shoreline, Deputy Chief Michael Spera said. Officers found Pelino Diloreto, 73, dead.

Police ruled the death as untimely and suspicious, and put out a request to other police departments for assistance in locating the man’s car, a tan Honda from the late 1980s. The car was found Tuesday night.

Spera said he could not release details of why the incident aroused suspicion or whether anyone else was in the home at the time. He said that Diloreto, of Wethersfield, was visiting his sister in Old Saybrook.

Diloreto died of heart disease, according to a spokeswoman for the medical examiner’s office. “The state medical examiner’s office has ruled the death natural, however the investigation remains open and active,” Spera said. State police assisted in the investigation, he added.

Business owners buck Guilford’s sign regulation revisions

By Rachael Scarborough King, Register Staff
Aug. 27, 2008

GUILFORD — A plan to revise the town’s sign regulations that has raised concerns among some business owners will be tabled for further study and changes, the Planning and Zoning Commission said this week.

The draft rules would have limited the amount of window space businesses could cover with signs and require them to switch off many lighted signs at night.

Chairwoman Shirley Girioni said the proposals, along with new rules for temporary signs, will be further scrutinized in coming months.

A public hearing Monday was the third on the topic this summer. A Sign Review Committee and town staff have been working to revise the current sign regulations for more than two years.

Several business owners said at the hearing that they think the town should be supporting local businesses in a time of economic hardship. In particular, they worried that the proposed regulations — especially the rules for lighted signs and the elimination of many temporary signs — would make it more difficult for customers to locate their businesses.

One of the draft rules would require that shopping plazas replace freestanding temporary signs with a permanently affixed holder. Dale Lehman, the executive director of the Guilford Chamber of Commerce, suggested that the commission implement a “phase-out” process for the temporary signs.

“I think a lot of the fear with the tenants of these plazas is that it’s going to be all or nothing, and they’re going to have to wait until the landlords build the permanent temporary-sign holders,” Lehman said.

Randy Kaoud, the owner of Kaoud Brothers Oriental Rugs on Route 1, said he thinks a distinction should be made between the commercialized thoroughfare and other areas of town.

“I see separate and distinct trading areas,” he said. “The Post Road is a tax workhorse for the town, and we can’t see the logic of shutting the lights partially when other signs will stay on sometimes all night.”

Tony Fappiano, a Guilford real estate agent, said he disagrees with the draft provisions that would regulate signage inside of stores that can be seen from the street.

“This really becomes an infringement on the ability of the tenant who’s paying rent in the space to use all the space,” he said.

No one in the audience at the hearing spoke in favor of the regulations, but Girioni read two letters into the record expressing support, one from a town resident, and one from the Guilford Preservation Alliance.

Girioni and other commissioners said that one of the main questions they will have to answer is whether they want to regulate the interior of businesses and what owners can put in their windows. The draft regulations would extend the definition of sign to include writing visible from the street and require that only 25 percent of a window’s glass area be covered with signs.

The commission unanimously voted to have the Zoning Committee, a subcommittee of the main body, continue studying the regulations.

“I don’t think the motivation of the Sign Review (Committee) was necessarily misplaced when it said we don’t want to have a Post Road that’s lit up so you can see it from space,” Commissioner David Grigsby said.

Commissioner Robert Richard also said he thinks the draft regulations have good components.

“I don’t know what to do to keep the business people, but also keep what I feel to be the character of Guilford,” he said.

The Zoning Committee and members of the Planning Department will now revise the proposed regulations, after which there will be another round of public hearings.

“This is going to take another two years,” Girioni said. “I can tell.”

Orchard cultivating wind turbine

By Rachael Scarborough King, Register Staff
Aug. 25, 2008

GUILFORD — The town’s first wind turbine could be coming to one of its best known businesses.

The owners of Bishop’s Orchards are researching the feasibility of installing a wind turbine in their orchards off Long Hill Road. The Planning and Zoning Commission recently approved the company’s request to install a temporary, 197-foot-tall tower to measure wind at the site.

The temporary tower, which could stand for up to 18 months, is a necessary first step before installing a wind turbine, Bill Green of Green Machine Bio told the commission. The steel structure will taper from 10 inches in diameter at the base to about 8 inches at the top, and have a series of cables extending from its sides to the ground.

“It really would be set into the property quite a way, so it’s really not going to affect (views),” Green said.

The tower will measure the speed and direction of the wind in that location to see if a wind turbine would generate enough power, Green said.

Jonathan Bishop, co-owner of Bishop’s Orchards and a member of the commission, did not participate in the discussion or decision. Bishop said that the plan, if the conditions are appropriate, is to install a single turbine and continue farming on the land around it.

“What we’re looking to do right now is not looking at a wind farm, although not ruling that out down the road,” he said. “If it was feasible and it worked out well and there wasn’t a lot of uproar in the community about it, we have other sites that might also lend themselves to wind, but that’s not anything that we’ve done any planning for or have in the works.”

With rising energy costs, the farm’s owners have been looking into alternative energy sources for several months, Bishop said. They researched solar power but found that the roof of the farmer’s market was not appropriate for solar panels.

The company currently purchases 750,000 kilowatts of energy per year — at a cost of about $150,000 to $200,000 — and the turbine could cover all of that need. Bishop said it is not clear what size turbine would be necessary, but he has been told it could cost between $1.5 million and $2 million.

He added that he is hoping the temporary tower will be up in the next few weeks, but it would be at least two years before a permanent facility would be in place.

“With where the power costs and everything seem to be going, it seemed like it was maybe a good time to start,” he said. “It’s a fairly long process, so we’ve got probably almost a year of data collection to assess the feasibility.”

Bishop’s currently uses biodiesel in its farm equipment, but otherwise this is its first foray into alternative energy.

Town planners are now moving to set up its first regulations for wind turbines.

Town Planner George Kral said at the meeting that the state Siting Council regulates wind turbines above a certain size, but this plan would probably fall under that threshold, making it the town’s responsibility to regulate.

Kral said the Planning Department will consult regulations in other states and towns and most likely create a special permit process to deal with wind turbines. He added that the commission’s decision this week to allow the temporary tower will not affect future decisions.

“This should not imply any kind of predisposition to approve a permanent facility,” he said.

Commissioner David Grigsby said he thinks the public should have a say in the process.

“I feel like this is a brave new world and I’d like more input than the several of us,” Grigsby said.

“I think it’s a laudable goal. I think there are just lots of people that have strong opinions about tall structures that impede view sheds.”

Blumenthal tells feds: Plum Island wrong site

Aug. 22, 2008
By Rachael Scarborough King, Register Staff

State Attorney General Richard Blumenthal has filed a formal opposition to a possible expansion of the Plum Island Animal Disease Center, saying the facility poses “monstrous risks.”

The comments refer to a draft environmental impact statement for the site prepared by the U.S. Department of Homeland Security that analyzes the feasibility and effect of building the proposed National Bio- and Agro-Defense Facility in one of six locations nationwide.

Plum Island, in Long Island Sound, now handles biosafety level 3 work, which deals with diseases that affect animals, such as foot-and-mouth disease. It is the only facility of its kind in the country. The new facility would be designed to handle biosafety level 4, including diseases that can move from animals to humans.

The other five sites under consideration are Athens, Ga.; Manhattan, Kan.; Flora, Miss.; Butner, N.C.; and San Antonio.

Plum Island is off the eastern tip of the north fork of Long Island, N.Y., about 10 miles from Connecticut.

Blumenthal said the environmental impact statement “fails to fully consider” several factors, including the island’s proximity to New York City, the nuclear submarine base in Groton and the U.S. Coast Guard Academy in New London. It also does not address the security risks of an island and difficulty for emergency responders, he said.

“Other proposed sites are so clearly preferable in terms of environmental or security standards,” he said. “The law requires that feasible alternatives be chosen when they do less damage to environmental resources, particularly when those environmental concerns are linked to security and public safety issues.”

Blumenthal called for Plum Island to be withdrawn immediately from consideration for the facility. All of the sites under consideration applied to be part of the process, although Plum Island is the only one with an existing center.

According to the Homeland Security Department, the new facility would have “the latest advances in security and technology,” including electronic access control, the purification of all water and air leaving the building and the use of full-body air-supply suits for researchers handling level 4 materials. Animals used in the laboratories would not be kept outside or have contact with other animals in the area, according to the department.

The final environmental impact statements will include potential disaster scenarios and risk assessments, according to a spokeswoman for the department. The government plans to make a decision on the location by the end of this year. Right now, the department does not have a preferred site, according to the spokeswoman.

Community input will play a role in the decision, and residents have until Monday to file comments. The draft environmental impact statements are online at http://www.dhs.gov/nbaf.

Blumenthal said he is talking to officials in New York state and members of Connecticut’s congressional delegation about opposing the plan.

5 charged in armed robbery outside home

By Rachael Scarborough King, Register Staff
Aug. 22, 2008

NORTH BRANFORD — Five people are under arrest following an armed robbery in front of a Sea Hill Road home Wednesday night.

Later that night, police dogs from the West Haven and East Haven police departments and state police helped to locate the gun believed used in the crime, police said.

Police received a call at about 9:15 p.m. Wednesday from a man saying two people held him up at gunpoint and stole $500. Five people left the scene in a vehicle together, he said.

The Police Department did not identify the alleged victim.

According to police, Christopher Spellen, 20, and James Rusnack, 19, both of New Haven, approached the man in front of a house where he was staying and demanded money. Rusnack allegedly threatened the man with a gun while three other people waited in a car.

The man was “known to carry a large amount of money,” police said, not elaborating on the reason for that.

Shortly after the 911 call, North Branford Officer Sean Anderson saw a car on Route 80 that matched the description the man gave police. After Anderson stopped the car, one of the occupants said they had thrown the gun out the window while driving, according to police.

K-9 units from the three other departments assisted North Branford in the search, and West Haven Officer Matthew Haynes and his dog, Tex, found the gun along Route 80, police said.

Police arrested all five occupants of the vehicle.

Spellen and Rusnack were charged with one count each of carrying a gun without a permit, fourth-degree larceny, first-degree robbery, fourth-degree conspiracy to commit larceny and first-degree conspiracy to commit robbery.

Rusnack allegedly took the gun used in the crime from his brother-in-law’s East Haven home, according to police.

The two men were arraigned Thursday and were being held in lieu of $50,000 bail, police said.

John Kennedy, 23, Bonnie Colburn, 18, both of Branford, and a 17-year-old from New Haven each face charges of second-degree breach of peace, fourth-degree conspiracy to commit larceny and first-degree conspiracy to commit robbery, according to police.

Colburn was driving the car involved, according to police. Kennedy, Colburn and the teen were released on $5,000 bond and are due in court Sept. 2, according to police.