May 27, 2011

State House bill on wind turbines tweaked; moratorium off the table for now

By JASON SIEDZIK, The Register Citizen, 27 May 2011

COLEBROOK – The divergent events of Tuesday could clear the path for wind energy in Colebrook – albeit under regulation.

State representative Vickie Nardello, who chairs the Energy Committee, introduced an amendment that made several tweaks to HB 6249 – a bill that originally sought to impose a moratorium on wind turbines in Connecticut until specific regulations could be drafted. However, that moratorium faded into the background as the bill made its way through three committees, and Nardello’s amendment eventually reworked the moratorium into a one-sentence statement.

Rep. Nardello’s office stated that the representative – whose district includes Prospect, the site of a rejected turbine proposal – would not comment on the bill or the amendment until the Senate finishes their deliberations. BNE Energy president and CEO Gregory Zupkus praised the amended language, stating that “we feel that sends the right message, that Connecticut is open for renewable energy business.”

“We associate with a lot of peers across the nation,” Zupkus said, “and they were watching how the Connecticut Siting Council would rule on this.”

According to Zupkus, though, the bill will not have any impact on his company’s proposals if they are approved. As Zupkus understands the bill’s language, the moratorium will only impact pending projects, and BNE Energy’s proposals would be in line with any potential regulations.

“We’ve always followed best practices in the wind industry for siting,” Zupkus said, noting that the turbines are set back enough to reduce the impact of sound, flicker and ice throw “to where they’re just non-issues.”

The newly-amended bill calls for specific regulations on wind turbines, something the state has lacked. Specifically, the regulations to be drafted pertain to setbacks, including considerations

See Tower, A10

of tower height and distance from neighboring properties, flicker, a requirement for the developer to decommission the facility at the end of its useful life, different requirements for projects of different sizes, ice throw, blade shear, noise levels and impact on natural resources.

“We never had a problem with wind regulations,” Zupkus said.

However, the amendment alters the call for a moratorium, simplifying the language. The second section of the bill reads that “The Connecticut Siting Council shall not act on any application or petition for siting of a wind turbine until after the adoption of regulations pursuant to subsection (a) of this section.” Previously, the bill stated that the council would act on applications after regulations were drafted, and “for any wind turbine application submitted to the siting council on or before the effective date of this section, the siting council shall resume consideration of such application upon adoption of such regulations and shall allow such applicant the opportunity to satisfy the regulation requirements.”

The bill had just been introduced to the Senate on Thursday, and although state representative John Rigby said he expected the bill to pass and get signed into law, it should not stop the Colebrook proposals, if they are approved according to the Connecticut Siting Council’s schedule. The amendment also delays the moratorium from the date of passage to July 1.

“What passed the House does not affect the Colebrook projects that are in the pipeline right now,” Zupkus said.

The Connecticut Siting Council has sent out more positive messages regarding Colebrook South than BNE Energy’s proposal for wind turbines in Prospect. The Prospect proposal, which would have placed two turbines near 1,000 acres of protected forest land, was rejected by a 5-2 vote by the Connecticut Siting Council. However, a straw poll taken during a recent meeting showed the council voting 6-1 in favor of the Colebrook South project, in part due to Colebrook’s sparser population.

“It does appear that’s the distinction they’re making between Colebrook and Prospect,” BNE Energy chairman Paul Corey said.

Corey noted the visible distinction in population density between Colebrook and Prospect. The Connecticut Siting Council’s own draft findings of fact point towards Colebrook South’s location, as the probability of ice hitting the closest house to any turbine – which is 676 feet away from one turbine – is once every 512 years, assuming the turbine is equipped with the longest supported blades and ice mitigation methods are not used.

Colebrook’s population density is approximately 49 people per square mile, according to 2005 United States Census estimates, compared to Prospect’s 646. The draft findings of fact on Colebrook South state that the Connecticut average is 738 people per square mile, and the national average is 87.4.

“These sites didn’t happen by accident,” Zupkus said. “It took us a good year to find these sites.”

The bill should have a minimal financial impact, according to the Connecticut Office of Fiscal Analysis. As passed – the amendment did not make any changes that would alter the bill’s cost – HB 6249 should cost the Connecticut Siting Council $43,000 in the 2012 fiscal year, which will come out of the Consumer Counsel and Public Utility Control Fund.

“These costs are associated with fees for a consultant with expertise in wind turbines (approximately $25,000) and other costs associated with holding public hearings regarding the proposed regulations ($18,000),” the report states. “These costs include posting hearing notices in legal journals, council member per diems, and a court reporter.”

Whatever regulations may come, though, Zupkus is confident that the Connecticut Siting Council will act accordingly. While Connecticut is the last state in the northeast to build industrial wind power, Zupkus said, the council is hardly inexperienced when it comes to regulating electrical generation. Corey praised the bill’s acknowledgement of that, stating that “I think they recognize the Connecticut Siting Council has the ability to evaluate projects on a case-by-case process.”

“We were clear from the beginning that the Siting Council regulates these projects,” Zupkus said. “They have the expertise to handle wind projects.”

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