Wind siting regulations approved, but may be too late

wind turbines

wind turbines

After nearly three years with wind energy development in Connecticut at a standstill – siting regulations for wind turbines have finally been approved. But how quickly or energetically wind will move ahead is still a question.

It took five tries before the Regulation Review Committee approved the Connecticut Siting Council proposal that establishes setbacks and heights for turbines, noise and “flicker” from their turning blades, decommissioning and other contentious details. While some tweaks had been made over time, the provisions have largely stayed intact.

But what has changed is that the key federal incentive for wind development — known as the production tax credit — has expired, and that may mean even with siting regulations on the books in Connecticut, nothing may happen with large-scale wind projects.

“It could be too little, too late possibly,” said Paul Michaud, executive director of the Renewable Energy and Efficiency Business Association and a lawyer whose clients have included wind developers.

Legislation to extend the credit has been approved by the Senate Finance Committee, but whether it actually makes it through Congress is uncertain.

“It will impact the economic viability of these projects in the state unless it does get extended,” Michaud said. “I know of one big company that has some eyes on Connecticut — if the federal incentives continue.”

Michaud said that small wind projects, the kind that would be tantamount to putting solar panels on a building for use by that building alone, would be more likely to move ahead.

But Sen. Bob Duff, D-Norwalk, who sits on the Regulation Review panel and co-chairs the Energy and Technology Committee, said there was still a little wiggle room to qualify retroactively for the production tax credit.

“It took awhile to get these regulations,” Duff said. “Let’s hope Congress can extend the wind tax credit and we can move forward here in Connecticut.”

The environmental community in Connecticut views the approval as good news.

“On Earth Day, we’re happy to celebrate this victory for the environment, the economy, and the people of Connecticut,” said a statement by Lauren Savidge, a staff attorney at the Connecticut Fund for the Environment.

And Chris Phelps of Environment Connecticut said he was relieved the regulations were finally approved. “It’s about time,” he said.

But he, too, recognized that the lack of federal incentives could hurt.

“It’s not just less wind in the pipeline to get built,” he said. “But it’s probably a slower uptake going forward.”

Phelps blames FairWindCT for the situation.

The group has spearheaded the opposition to the siting regulations after it was unable to block approval of the state’s only major wind project, in Colebrook, in 2011. That project remains unbuilt, however, as FairWind has continued to fight it in court. The Colebrook decision also resulted in a moratorium on wind development until siting regulations were approved. For the last three years, it has made Connecticut the only state in the nation with a ban on wind.

Even after Tuesday’s meeting, FairWind’s website was objecting to the final proposed regulations. But in an emailed statement, its tone softened.

“The conversation with legislators will continue,” Joyce Hemingson, the group’s president, was quoted as saying. “The regulations passed today are not perfect, but do give protections that were not there when we started.”