CT legislature blocks wind power regulations for third time

A General Assembly committee rejected wind-turbine regulations for the third time in nine months Tuesday, prompting environmentalists to complain that legislators are blocking home-grown wind power just as the technology is showing signs of producing electricity at competitive prices.

“This is really outright obstructionism at this point,” said Chris Phelps, the state director of Environment Connecticut. “Wind is growing by leaps and bounds in this country, and Connecticut is sitting on the sidelines.”

The Regulations Review Committee voted 10-3 to reject regulations that were opposed by municipal officials and others as providing too little control over the construction and operation of wind turbines used to generate electricity.

Sen. Bob Duff, D-Norwalk, the co-chairman of the Energy and Technology Committee and a member of Regulations Review, accused the Connecticut Conference of Municipalities (CCM) and the Council of Small Towns of opposition meant to effectively kill wind projects in Connecticut.

Under current federal law, tax credits for wind power are available only to projects that are under construction by the end of the year.

“The clock is ticking,” Duff said.

Sen. Leonard A. Fasano, R-North Haven, one of the legislators who opposed passage, said he was unaware of the tax-credit issue, but he added, “We’re not about to pass regulations because of some time frame Congress put on it.”

James Finley, the president of CCM, said municipal officials are trying to force the passage of appropriate regulations, not indefinitely delay their passage. He said he thinks revised regulations could be ready for passage next month.

The stalemate over wind power is playing out as Connecticut is committing to the purchase of wind power generated in northern Maine at a price that state officials say is competitive with electricity generated by fossil fuels.

The committed voted on Dec. 18, 2012, and May 28, 2013, to reject previous versions of regulations sought by the Connecticut Siting Council.

Duff and two Republican senators, Clark J. Chapin of New Milford and Robert J. Kane of Watertown, voted against further delay. Attorneys with the Legislative Commissioner’s Office, which acts as counsel to the legislature, had recommended approval.

“It isn’t the role of this committee to decide the role of wind,” said Roger Smith of Clean Water Action. “It’s getting ridiculous.”

Phelps called on legislative leaders and Gov. Dannel P. Malloy to push for adoption of regulations.

Andrew Doba, a spokesman for Malloy, expressed disappointment in the rejection without committing to action.

“The governor has made it his mission to promote cleaner, cheaper, more reliable energy here in Connecticut, and wind power can and should be a part of that equation,” Doba said. “So today’s vote is unfortunate, particularly since [the Legislative Commissioner’s Office] recommended approval. That said, it is not uncommon for proposed regulations to have multiple hearings, and we hope the committee will pick these up again in the near future.”

FairWindCT, a group fighting a wind project in Colebrook, said the Siting Council is refusing to back adequate rules on height, setbacks, noise and “flicker” — the strobe-like effect that turbines can generate when backlit by the sun.

Joyce Hemingson, the group’s president, said her concern is the health and well-being of residents who would live near turbines.

“I think everybody wants to find a solution,” she said. “We want good regulations for Connecticut, not regulations that will be changed again in the next legislative session. People are going to work hard to get something that works and hopefully the next time they’ll be approved.”

Wind turbines produce power without burning fossil fuels, but their opponents see them as a blight on the landscape.

“Frankly I think they’re an eyesore, but that’s my view,” Fasano said.

Fasano said he would not vote against regulations solely on the basis of aesthetic concerns.

“They do have a role to play, it seems to me, but if we’re going to allow them to exist, we have to have the right regulations in place,” he said.

In a memo sent Monday to the member of Regulations Review, CCM said that the regulations are insufficient in assessing noise and shadow flicker. CCM also is asking for turbine owners to post surety bonds to ensure that a municipality would not be stuck with decommissioning costs at the end of the turbines’ useful life.

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