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Policy: Environment & Energy

Connecticut moratorium stalls wind power proposal

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Associated Press,Connecticut,Energy and Environment,Wind Energy,Government Regulation

As Connecticut moves on several fronts to diversify its supply of energy, proposals for wind power have stalled as state lawmakers struggle to reach agreement on rules for turbine locations, shadows created by spinning blades and other details.

A 2011 law called for the state Siting Council to adopt regulations governing wind power, but the legislature's Regulation Review Committee has rejected several proposed rules since late last year.

"It's not good for this state for regulations to take this long," said Sen. Bob Duff, Senate chairman of the legislature's Energy and Technology Committee.

Wind power is not expected to become a major source of Connecticut's energy, but developers see potential to serve many consumers. It is also important symbolically for an administration that has emphasized renewable energy as part of a strategy that also involves a huge expansion of natural gas pipelines.

The lack of rules has stalled proposals, including Pioneer Green Energy's plan to build four to eight turbines in eastern Connecticut.

Adam Cohen, vice president of the renewable energy company, said its project would be cost competitive, particularly when the price of natural gas spikes as it did during several cold spells this past winter. It proposes to generate 10 to 20 megawatts, enough to power 3,000 to 5,000 homes.

In Union, one of the towns that would host the turbines, First Selectman Albert L. "Andy" Goodhall Jr. said the Planning and Zoning Commission has adopted regulations that would allow wind turbines.

"There is support for the most part. It's been dragging along for a few years," he said.

In their discussions of the rule proposals, legislators have discussed concerns that regulations for a waiver for noise are ambiguous, whether money is required to be placed in escrow to handle abandoned equipment and the distinction between wind turbines on land and offshore.

A revised set of regulations was approved Wednesday by Attorney General George Jepsen, who reviewed the proposed rules to make sure they comply with state laws and the Constitution. The rules now head to the Siting Council and back to the legislative committee.

State Rep. Selim Noujaim, the House co-chairman of the Regulation Review Committee, said he doesn't know when regulations may be drafted and the moratorium lifted.

"Your guess is as good as mine," he said.

Connecticut is not generally seen as a top-tier source of wind power. The state has no mountains to produce wind corridors and no access to the Atlantic Ocean, which powers stiff winds. Still, Duff said, Connecticut has a role to play in generating wind power.

"There are definitely opportunities," he said. "We need to have clear and concise regulations that protect the state but also help to site them."

Connecticut is not alone in New England in what Cohen called a "troubling trend of moratoriums and unreasonable requirements" for wind power projects.

A recent report says that although Maine leads New England in wind power generation, the state produces only about 450 megawatts of it, or enough to supply about 175,000 households. To meet its 3,000-megawatt goal, about 600 more wind turbines — about three times as many now — would need to be built, according to Maine Audubon, an advocacy group.

In Massachusetts, a proposed first-in-the nation offshore wind farm in Nantucket Sound scored 17 legal victories to get to the financing stage, said Mark Rodgers, a spokesman for the project. While the involvement of federal regulators may have drawn out the approval process, the project's backers expected a three-year effort, he said. It took 10 years.

Wind power in New England often is generated along ridges and offshore, sometimes in view of affluent homeowners, Rodgers said.

"That can result in well-financed opposition, which could certainly slow down a project," he said.

In Connecticut, wind power regulations could be drafted before the legislature adjourns May 7. But that's not certain.

"It's all up in the air, unfortunately," said Goodhall, Union's first selectman. "We're just sitting here waiting."

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