The ban on new wind turbines in Connecticut will continue, after a legislative panel again rejected proposed regulations for large-scale wind energy projects.
Lawmakers on the Regulations Review Committee on Tuesday rejected the most recent proposal from the Connecticut Siting Council, saying the regulations fail to address town officials’ concerns and would make it too easy for developers to get around the regulations with waivers.
Without regulations to govern wind projects, the 2011 ban on turbines will continue for at least another month – delaying projects in Ashford, Union, Colebrook, and Prospect.
“We’re going to be overriding local control,” Rep. Arthur J. O’Neill, R-Southbury, said before voting against the proposed regulations.
Critics of the vote said the proposed regulations comply with state law, and legislators who don’t like the idea of wind turbines in the state shouldn’t reject the regulations simply because they don’t like the law that allows the projects.
“The legislature set forth the policy,” Sen. Robert Kane, R-Watertown, said. He was among three lawmakers to vote in favor of the regulations.
At issue is how much control local officials should have over wind turbine projects in their towns. Lawmakers created the state Siting Council to regulate power plants, cellphone towers, and other utility projects that people may not want in their neighborhoods – basically because if it were up to local governments, they’d be blocked from locating anywhere.
The 2011 law required the Siting Council to propose regulations for wind turbines. But until the Regulations Review Committee approves the rules, the ban on windmill proposals will continue.
Robert Stein, chairman of the Siting Council, told lawmakers he’d sought to strike a balance between the strict regulations and greater local control that towns want and regulations that would allow windmills to exist. Stein said he and others reviewed rules in other states and other countries.
“There’s nothing new or radical in our regulations,” Stein said. “I think it’s pretty mainstream.”
He pointed to a section of the proposed regulations that would allow local officials and neighboring landowners to get special status as “intervenors” to argue against a windmill. It’s similar to a process towns supported for siting cellphone towers.
As for waivers, the regulations would allow developers to get exemptions regarding the setback of a windmill from the property line and for the shadow-flicker effect caused by the blades blocking the sun, but even in those cases there are minimum requirements, Stein said. Stein equated the waivers to the appeals process for local zoning decisions.
The proposal wouldn’t have allowed a waiver for noise levels.
The Connecticut Conference of Municipalities, which represents cities and towns, had urged the panel to reject the regulations. CCM said it wanted more local control and a “host-town impact analysis,” among other changes.
“CCM encourages renewable energy sources. However, local governments need to be part of the discussion and decision-making authority,” the group said in a letter.
But an environmental group and clean energy advocates accused CCM and lawmakers of obstructionism.
“While wind power is growing by leaps and bounds nationwide, Connecticut has had a so-called temporary moratorium on new wind power that is now stretching into its third year,” Chris Phelps, executive director of the group Environment Connecticut, said in a statement.
He pointed to the state’s recent decision to buy 250 megawatts of wind power from Maine.
“Travel across Connecticut and you will see power plant smokestacks spewing pollution into the air we breathe in every corner of the state. Yet wind power opponents are worried about seeing wind turbines spinning in the distance? That’s ridiculous,” Phelps said.
Sen. Robert Duff, D-Norwalk and co-chairman of the legislature’s Energy and Technology Committee, urged lawmakers to support the regulations. Federal incentives for renewable energy production expire before the end of the year.
“It’s extremely important that we move forward on these recommendations,” he said.
In Ashford, the Texas company Pioneer Green Energy is seeking permission to build a test tower on a site about a mile from Interstate 84. The company wants to build five 2.5-megawatt wind turbines nearby, all more than 450 feet high.
Pioneer installed a similar test tower in Union. Another company has proposed building wind turbines in Colebrook and Prospect.
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