For the third time in a year, a legislative committee has rejected proposed regulations for wind turbines in Connecticut, continuing the two-year moratorium on the clean energy projects.
The vote to reject the rules without prejudice passed 10-3, including one abstention, sending them back to the Connecticut Siting Council, which introduced the regulations earlier this month.
Nationally, wind power is booming, accounting for 43 percent of new power facilities built last year, according to the U.S. Department of Energy. Though federal studies show that Connecticut has just a sparse 31 square kilometers of windy land, advocates say it’s an asset, especially with a deadline for federal tax credits expiring at the end of the year.
“You’re unlikely to see a 250-megawatt wind farm in downtown Hartford,” said Chris Phelps, campaign director of Environment Connecticut, an environmental advocacy organization. “But there’s an opportunity in Connecticut.”
The down vote for new rules comes a week after both Connecticut and Massachusetts announced they would buy power from hundreds of megawatts of wind developments from northern New England states. Connecticut’s deal alone will support a 250-megawatt project in Maine.
The Connecticut moratorium on wind projects was passed in 2011 to give lawmakers time to establish fitting rules for building and siting the turbines.
An alert to members of the Connecticut Conference of Municipalities dated Friday warned members of the regulations’ lack of input on technical, environmental and viability issues, host-town impact, decommissioning and noise evaluation. It recommended that its members call the regulations committee about these issues.
Those concerns weighed on committee members, the main one being what happens if a wind power company fails and there’s no one responsible to take down the turbine, according to Melanie Bachman, executive director and staff attorney of the siting council.
Bachman said the plan addresses issues regarding the building and impacts of the turbines. Addressing town concerns about turbine decommissioning, the council couldn’t give them what they want: the ability to bond for funds to take down turbines in the event that its owner goes bankrupt.
“They want us to ensure that there is financing in place in the event that the project is abandoned and the company goes bankrupt, that there is bonding in place so it could be safely dismantled,” Bachman said in an interview Tuesday afternoon. “But we don’t have bonding authority.”
Sen. Bob Duff, chairman of the legislature’s energy and technology committee, was among the three members who voted to approve the rules and end the moratorium. He said the proposed regulations are stricter than current rules for most structures, including cell towers.
“The fact that CCM came in with a last-minute memo with some concerns in my opinion was disingenuous,” Duff said. “The process has been around for at least two years, and CCM has not reached out to the siting council since April.”
Jim Finley, executive director of CCM, said that their concerns have been the same all along.
“We’ve been consistent in our concerns since April, nothing has changed, and there have been no assurances that there would be legislation to meet our concerns,” he said in an interview.
The failure of the regulations also puts at farther grasp one of the major incentives for renewable power development from the federal government, a tax benefit that expires at the end of the year. Duff said that getting the new rules passed by that time will be difficult, a fact Bachman’s view of the process attests to.
“There is a very rigid process for submission of regulations,” Bachman said.
If the rules need to be altered, they need to be approved by the council’s board in mid-October and then approved by the state’s attorney general, who will have 30 days to decide. At that point, they need to be filed with the Regulations Review Committee by the first Tuesday of the month in order to be considered on the committee’s meeting on the fourth Tuesday of the month.
All that makes getting shovels in the ground by the end of the year a difficult task, unless the rules are resubmitted in their current form, which would get around the complicated approvals needed. Bachman had not decided what the next step would be.
“It’s clear that a lot of effort has been put into these regulations,” said Phelps. “Connecticut has taken more time and been more diligent. At this point, to continue blocking these regulations is to obstruct the construction of wind power in Connecticut for the sake of doing so.”
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