Wind power blocked again in CT — political charges fly

For the fourth time in a little less than a year, a legislative committee has declined to approve regulations for wind turbines in Connecticut, leaving in place a moratorium on wind power projects that has been in effect for more than two years. It reaffirms Connecticut as the only state in the region, and possibly in the nation, that specifically does not permit wind projects.

The action -- or what was essentially inaction by the Regulations Review Committee –- has also escalated the political rhetoric as environmentalists accuse opponents of wind turbines in general of hijacking the regulation process to keep wind power out of the state.

“This is the M.O. for these folks,” said Chris Phelps of Environment Connecticut. “They keep raising new and largely specious objections. Their goal is not to get good regulations; their goal is to get no regulations. It’s obvious at this point.”

Roger Smith of Clean Water Action called the situation “mind-boggling.”

“The legislature at multiple times has required utilities to buy renewable energy,” he said. “Members of one quasi-legislative committee are stepping in to decide wind power won’t have any part of that.”

But Sen. Len Fasano, R-North Haven, a member of the committee, said while: “I know I would not want a 427-foot tower one mile away from my property line,” his goal is not to stop wind.

His main objection is to a waiver process in the regulations, which were drawn up and submitted by the Connecticut Siting Council. It allows the council to authorize waivers for turbines that may not be in compliance with regulations.

“We’re going down a path which to me is dangerous,” Fasano said. “It leaves people unprotected.”

Ironically, noted Francis Pullaro, executive director of the nonprofit Renewable Energy New England (RENEW), Connecticut has just signed a long-term contract for 250 megawatts of wind power from EDP Renewables in Maine, a member of his group. But Pullaro worried that Connecticut’s failure to allow wind inside its borders could have a chilling effect on future projects in the region similar to EDP’s.

“If wind isn’t good enough for Connecticut, why allow it in our state?” he asked rhetorically. “This has become all about using the process to delay, delay, delay.”

That sentiment was not lost on Gov. Dannel P. Malloy, who said if the goal is to block wind power, then opponents on the committee “should say so."

“If you keep picking off alternative sources of energy that you don’t want in your state, then don’t be surprised that we don’t reach alternative energy status comparable to the goal. So, I think people have wrestled with this issue. I am not being critical at this moment. People have to have this discussion.

“I just hope we eventually adopt appropriate regulations," he said.

But “eventually” comes with its own complication. The federal tax credit for wind projects, a key financial incentive, is due to expire Dec. 31. It has expired and been reauthorized before. But with the current uncertainty, even if the state were to finally approve regulations, wind projects could become far less economically attractive.

What the Regulations Review Committee did on this round was, in effect, demand that the Siting Council withdraw its submission, which was the same set of regulations rejected in September. The Siting Council’s acting executive director, Melanie Bachman, said the council had been asked to meet with the Connecticut Council of Municipalities to work through objections it had. But in the end, there were none so nothing was changed.

Leadership from the committee and the Siting Council are expected to meet, as soon as next month, to figure out how to proceed.

Asked if the council had become a pawn between those who support and oppose wind: “Certainly I think the failure of the regulations to pass is the product of disagreement between those two parties,” Bachman said.

“We’ve done everything their attorneys have advised us to do,” she said, referring to the committee. “We’ve jumped through all the hoops we know of.

“The bar is now raised a little higher.”

Sen. Bob Duff, D-Norwalk, a member of the committee and also co-chair of the Energy and Technology Committee, which has been behind most renewable energy efforts, including wind, called the lack of wind regulations “embarrassing.” He said the process has been hijacked by certain special interests that are too myopic, rather than seeing what’s good for the state.

But he admitted, “I also think the Siting Council needs to do a better job of explaining the regulations and sell the regulations to members of the committee better.

“In the end,” he said. “I think we’ll prevail.”

Mirror Staff Writer Mark Pazniokas contributed to this story.

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