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Wind energy moratorium one step closer to reality

HARTFORD – Proposed wind turbine projects in Colebrook moved one step closer – to being halted in their tracks.

The Joint Energy and Technology Committee of the Connecticut General Assembly issued a favorable report on HB 6249, which would enact an immediate moratorium on wind energy projects until regulations could be drafted. The bill, now known as “An Act Requiring the Adoption of Regulations for the Siting of Wind Projects,” was referred to the Office of Legislative Research and the Office of Fiscal Analysis; these two departments will take up the act March 7 at 10 a.m.

However, the Energy and Technology Committee made two changes to the act before referring it forward. The committee renamed the bill, reflecting the regulatory focus of the act instead of the moratorium. In addition, the committee added a requirement that the Connecticut Siting Council adopts regulations before approving any applications. Any projects submitted before the regulations were drafted – which would include BNE Energy’s twin projects in Colebrook, as well as a similar proposal in Prospect – would have the chance to be revised in order to comply to the new regulations.

Several individuals and non-profit groups testified in opposition to the projects due to the lack of regulations on the state and local levels. FairwindCT, formed in response to the Colebrook projects, supported the call for a moratorium. Such a measure was one of their main planks upon their inception in December 2010.

Then-Connecticut Attorney General and current United States Senator Richard Blumenthal also favored establishing regulations before constructing wind projects. Governor Dannel Malloy touched on the subject during his Feb. 24 town hall meeting, in response to a question from Stella Somers. The Somers family owns Rock Hall, a historic bed-and-breakfast near one of the proposed sites.

“I think they need to develop regulations very rapidly,” Malloy said.

But the moratorium could, in the opinion of some officials, hamstring renewable energy industries in the state. John Olsen, the vice chairman of the Connecticut Clean Energy Fund, said in the report that “a moratorium on wind projects will end all future wind projects in Connecticut, stifle job creation and the current projects will lose all funding.” Barbara Bell of the Connecticut Siting Council also pointed out in the report that the council already follows rigorous procedures, scheduling public hearings at the sites of proposed wind projects.

BNE Energy, the West Hartford-based company behind the projects, pointed towards the benefits of wind energy in the report, but also stated that the moratorium would run afoul of existing legislation. Chairman Paul Corey said that the bill is “in direct contradiction to the Energy Independence Act… state-mandated RPS standards and goals… and UAPA – state law requiring the council to render a decision on the pending petitions within 280 days.”

However, Corey also said in a January interview that he would not be opposed to regulations. Having worked on the regulatory side before joining BNE Energy, Corey pointed out that he is in negotiations with Canaan officials about drafting regulations regarding wind energy. The company wants to build a small turbine in town, which would generate less than one megawatt. Larger projects, such as the ones proposed in Colebrook and Prospect, fall under the Connecticut Siting Council’s purview, and – as Corey said – renewable energy, including wind and other technologies, is already regulated by the state.

“Many states have followed Connecticut’s lead,” said Corey in the interview. “BNE Energy wouldn’t be here if not for the laws.”