HARTFORD – A bill requiring new regulations on wind turbine projects was voted out of the Energy and Technology Committee Tuesday.
The bill would put the breaks on wind projects until the Connecticut Siting Council develops regulations specific to wind energy. The Siting Council has the sole authority to approve commercial energy projects. The council, however, is not a regulatory body, so the regulations would have to be approved by the Regulation Review Committee, a process which could take six to 12 months, according to Rep. Vickie Nardello, co-chair of the Energy and Technology Committee.
The committee voted 14 to 6 in favor of a substitute bill which took the word “moratorium” out of the title. However, the substance of the bill did not change.
“For all intents and purposes, it’s really the same bill,” said state Rep. Len Greene of Beacon Falls, one of the dissenting voters.
The bill will go to the state House of Representatives, where the speaker will determine whether to send it to another committee or bring it up for debate.
The bill requires the Siting Council to resume discussion on current proposals, including those in Prospect and Colebrook, once new regulations are in place, but opponents of the bill said the delay will kill current projects.
“BNE believes it still would delay, and likely kill the project,” said Patty McQueen, a spokesman for BNE Energy, the company planning the current wind turbine projects.
Governor Dannel Malloy agreed.
“I think there are regulations,” he told Larry Rifkin on WATR radio last week.
Malloy felt the moratorium would kill wind turbines in the state.
“I don’t think the design is to talk about regulations. I think the design is to end wind turbines,” Malloy told Rifkin. “If the legislature decides that they want to kill wind turbines, they should stand up and affirmatively vote that, but not try to do it by saying, well, we just need regulations. We’ve been regulated to death in this state.”
Nardello, who proposed and supported the bill, disagreed that it would deter wind energy. She said she believes the federal tax credit supporting renewable energy projects will be extended, allowing BNE to fund their wind projects once regulations are in place.
“They’ll be able to meet the regulations that the siting council has imposed,” Nardello said.
Supporters of the bill said they support wind turbines in Connecticut, but want to make sure they are properly sited. They were concerned about the health and safety of residents who live near the proposed turbines and didn’t think current regulations are sufficient to protect them.
“There are no regulations specific to the development of wind in Connecticut,” Nardello said.
U.S. Sen. Richard Blumenthal said he would support state legislation to regulate wind energy.
“Renewable sources of energy such as wind should be encouraged, but we must be very careful as to how and where, as to prevent any adverse health and safety impact on the residents in the surrounding area, or to the environment generally,” wrote Blumenthal in a December letter to Tim Reilly, president of Save Prospect Corp, a group opposing wind turbines in Prospect.
Barbara Currier Bell, a member of the Council, argued at a recent public hearing that the Council already has the necessary regulations in place to render an informed decision on the siting of wind turbine projects.
Greene also thought current regulations are sufficient. He said the Siting Council’s job is to remove politics from the process, a job they have done well for 40 years.
“I don’t believe that we need to add additional arbitrary regulations on top of what the Siting Council has already been doing,” Greene said.
He said the turbines would benefit the state as a whole by creating both jobs and electric generation. More regulations would impact future investment in the state in regards to wind power, Greene said.
“It sends the wrong message to the industry and the business community in general,” he said.
Greene said opposition to the turbines is a local issue.
“The whole impetus behind this bill seems to be driven by that,” he said.
Nardello argued that those in favor of the bill still supported renewable energy projects.
“It doesn’t mean that because we want regulations that we’re not supporting those particular industries or those particular products,” Nardello said.
She pointed to other projects under the jurisdiction of the Siting Council, such as cell towers, which are still numerous despite regulations.
Nardello hopes the bill will move quickly through the legislature.
“If [the Siting Council] issues a decision, it will be too late,” Nardello said.
The Siting Council has public hearings scheduled in Prospect next week.