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Connecticut banned wind turbines since 2011

Connecticut discretely has banned new wind turbine developments, which has delayed projects and chilled the clean energy industry to the state, officials say.

The ban, which stretches back to 2011, is the result of a bureaucratic fight between the Connecticut Siting Council, which regulates wind projects, and the state legislature.

Two years ago, the General Assembly passed a law putting a moratorium on new wind developments until the Siting Council wrote regulations that better defined wind project standards.

Those proposals need approval by the state’s Regulation Review Committee. The approval process was thought to take only a few months, but has dragged on for more than two years as the committee keeps rejecting the Siting Council’s proposed standards.

Meanwhile, as the delays mount, the state faces a hard deadline of Dec. 31 when the federal production tax credit for wind installation expires, altering the economics of any planned project in Connecticut.

“It is quite honestly a real travesty for the state of Connecticut,” said Adam Cohen, vice president and co-founder of Texas-based Pioneer Green Energy, which has wind projects planned for Ashford and Union. “All the jobs, and all the investment, and all the benefits of clean energy are going out of state.”

Pioneer planned to put a total of nine turbines in Ashford and Union. While the company has picked the property and worked with the municipalities on the plans, the Siting Council is forbidden from accepting any wind project applications until the regulatory dispute is resolved.

Ashford is one of more than 60 clean energy communities in Connecticut, and has pledged to buy 20 percent of its municipal power needs from renewable sources by 2018. Right now, the town procures that electricity outside Connecticut, including from out-of-state wind turbines.

“It certainly wouldn’t be a bad idea to buy electricity generated right here in the community,” Ashford First Selectman Ralph Fletcher said. “Once the Siting Council has a set of rules, we will move forward.”

The dispute with the Siting Council stems from a proposal by West Hartford firm BNE Energy to put wind turbines on properties in Prospect and Colebrook. The plans created significant public opposition in the northwest part of the state, so former state Rep. Vickie Nardello, (D-Prospect), wrote legislation calling for a moratorium until lawmakers studied wind energy further.

The Siting Council ruled on the Prospect and Colebrook proposals before the legislation passed, so they were not impacted by the ban. However, other planned wind projects had to wait from the start of the moratorium on July 1, 2011, until the Siting Council comes up with a resolution.

The biggest obstacle to the regulatory approval has been the now defunct size matters provision, officials say.

The Siting Council’s original submission to the Regulation Review Committee didn’t do anything to define the size of wind projects by height, capacity, or number of turbines. This was required in the size matters provision of the 2011 legislation, which is why the proposal was rejected without prejudice, said state Rep. Selim Noujaim (R-Waterbury), co-chair of the Regulation Review Committee.

“All we needed to do is redefine the regulation to include the size,” Noujaim said.

Subsequent proposals by the Siting Council still didn’t address the size matters provision and only raised more questions, Noujaim said, including the latest submission on May 1.

However, in June, the General Assembly passed a new law reworking the state’s renewable energy policy. The many components of that law included revoking the size matters provision for wind project regulation.

The way the 2011 law was written made it difficult to create good regulation, said state Sen. Bob Duff (D-Norwalk), co-chair of the Energy & Technology Committee. With size matters off the books, the Siting Council dispute should be resolved quickly.

“It is just a matter of getting it done,” Duff said. “Other than that, we are going to have a logjam.”

The Regulation Review Committee meets on the last Tuesday of every month, so agencies typically have until the first Tuesday to get on the agenda, Noujaim said. The Siting Council should be able to move quickly on getting the regulation approved, he said.

Siting Council officials, however, say it’s not that easy.

The Council has to write new regulations and wait for its monthly meeting to approve the proposal, said Melanie Bachman, acting executive director of the Siting Council.

The size matters provision could also still slow the proceedings, Bachman said, because it was widely popular with the public. The Council expects a hard fight in its meetings to get regulations approved without the size definition.

“It is a comedy of errors,” Bachman said, adding that she hopes to have the latest regulations submitted to the Regulation Review Committee in September. “We are at a level of frustration beyond description now.”

While the bureaucracy drags on, the clock continues to tick on the federal production tax credit. Wind projects still can get the credit if by Dec. 31 they are actively constructing, or have spent 5 percent of their costs.

Both of those are unlikely if wind proposals can’t even submit an application to the Siting Council until October, said Cohen.

“No one is going to put down 5 percent of their costs when the legislature has dragged this on for two years,” Cohen said.