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Lawmakers approve wind regulations lifting defacto moratorium

Ending what has been an informal three-year moratorium on wind power, a legislative committee unanimously approved regulations Tuesday paving the way for wind turbines.

The regulations, which were postponed for clerical reasons or rejected without prejudice at least four times prior to Tuesday’s meeting, finally met the approval of the committee and its attorneys. Prior drafts submitted by the Connecticut Siting Council, which oversees the location of transmission lines and cellphone towers, were rejected for a variety of reasons.

Legislative attorneys said the difference between previous versions and the one approved Tuesday was the way in which the turbines would be decommissioned by a certified engineer and specified that a waiver would apply to shadow flicker and setback distances, but not noise.

Rep. Arthur O’Neill, R-Southbury, described the process of approving the regulations as “torturous.”

The regulations drafted by the Connecticut Siting Council were first rejected in December 2012 and last withdrawn by the council in November 2013.

O’Neill said the process the Regulations Review Committee goes through is often misunderstood and some of the assumptions about the motivations of the committee were “unwarranted.”

Some environmental advocates have speculated that approval was delayed due to the lack of support for wind power by committee members.

“This is a big deal,” O’Neill said. “It required attention by the Siting Council as well as the committee to get it right. I think we finally got it right.”

Sen. Len Fasano, R-North Haven, said the regulations approved Tuesday would have been approved months ago if the Siting Council listened to the committee’s recommendations regarding decommissioning. He said the council said the attorney general told them it couldn’t be done, when a subsequent opinion from the attorney general proved otherwise.

Robert Stein, chairman of the Connecticut Siting Council, dismissed the criticism saying they “we had challenges and they had challenges.”

He said they talked to people in the attorney general’s office, but not the attorney general. When the committee asked for a formal decision from the attorney general the casual advice the Siting Council had gotten ended up being wrong.

But no one wanted to talk about those struggles on Earth Day.

Rep. Elissa Wright, D-Noank , said the regulations provide the people of Connecticut with appropriate protections and give the state the opportunity to move forward with a clean, renewable energy source.

“There will be opportunity in the future, if necessary, to revisit the regulations and refine them further,” Wright said.

Joyce Hemingston, president of FairwindCT, said while they would have liked to see a greater setback distance she’s happy there are regulations in place.

“We wanted regulations that would be protective of the health and safety of the citizens,” Hemingston said Tuesday after the vote.

Derek Phelps, a lobbyist for Pioneer Green Energy, which is looking to site a wind turbine in the eastern part of the state said his client is pleased with the action taken.

“It means what has been effectively a moratorium is now lifted,” Phelps said.

That means Pioneer Green Energy still has time to qualify for federal tax credits which make the project commercially viable.