Connecticut deserves a good wind turbine law

The issues that have been raised about industrial wind turbines are not new. They date back to the legislature’s Energy & Technology Committee public hearing on Feb. 3, 2011, which led to the passage of Bill 11-245 in the last hour of the legislative session in June 2011.

I testified at that public hearing and listened to hours of testimony by others. The main concerns were setbacks from residences, noise, health, bonding for decommissioning and local input.

You will find the same concerns documented on the CT Siting Council’s website (www.ct.gov/csc) at its public forum on wind regulations held Oct. 13, 2011, and its public hearing held July 24, 2012. 

The siting council had time to address these concerns before its first submission of regulations in October 2012, but did not. 

It wasn’t until an April 8, 2013, meeting between FairWindCT, the Council of Small Towns and the Connecticut Conference of Municipalities that the siting council agreed to correct the language regarding shadow flicker to allow 30 cumulative hours per year (rather than 30 hours from every wind turbine in a project). 

After each of the three rejections by the Regulations Review Committee, the siting council had the opportunity to make changes and address the ongoing concerns expressed at meetings by committee members themselves — setbacks, noise, health, waiver provisions, decommissioning bonding, local input. The council instead addressed the more nuts-and-bolts issues raised by the Legislative Commissioner’s Office.

After the third rejection in September, the siting council chose to resubmit the same draft regulations. Why? The notion that regulations needed to be passed before Federal Production Tax Credits expire at the end of 2013 is a red herring. No new projects in Connecticut would have been able to complete the siting council process in time and then begin significant construction. The IRS has very specific rules on what constitutes eligibility for Production Tax Credits.

The siting council’s draft wind regulations are the most lenient of any New England state. They would allow wind turbines 492 feet tall to be sited 738 feet from residential property lines. Connecticut’s noise regulations also date to 1978, before the advent of industrial wind turbines. Unlike noise from conventional power plants, noise from industrial wind turbines cannot be contained inside a structure, and neighboring residences cannot be fortified against it. Noise experts know that the outdated levels allowed in Connecticut would cause widespread complaints if industrial wind turbines are placed in residential areas. Greater setbacks are the solution.

The main purpose of state statutes is to protect public health and safety. For example, a Massachusetts judge recently ruled that two 397-feet-tall industrial wind turbines in Falmouth must be shut off at night and all day on Sundays and three major holidays to protect the health of homeowners who live about a quarter-mile (1,320 feet) away. The sound produced by industrial wind turbines is regulated in Maine, which has the most installed wind energy of any state in New England.

It’s terrific to hear Connecticut legislators openly discussing energy policy as well as various energy options. Back in 2011 when the enabling legislation for wind regulations was passed, we didn’t even have a state energy plan. We are making progress, but let’s include all stakeholders in the process and put regulations in place that protect public health and safety.

 

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