Processing Your Payment

Please do not leave this page until complete. This can take a few moments.

April 21, 2014

CT poised to lift three-year ban on wind turbines

Turbine Illustration | Helioshammer,

Key legislative leaders and energy officials have reached a tentative agreement to lift the state's three-year ban on wind turbine development, just in time for a northeast Connecticut project to move forward.

And the Kumbaya moment probably will fall on Earth Day.

The ban likely will be lifted Tuesday, as the General Assembly's Regulation Review Committee is poised to approve wind turbine development regulations that have been at the heart of the three-year moratorium since 2011, according to the committee's leadership.

“I don't think [the regulations] will have a problem this time around,” said State Rep. Selim Noujaim (R-Waterbury), co-chair of the regulation committee. “I only speak for myself as co-chair … but now is the time, and I think the whole committee will vote to pass it.”

Even if the committee doesn't pass the regulations on Tuesday — perhaps due to a technical revision or a last-minute objection — the measure is on the road to approval, Noujaim said. The committee leadership, the governor's office, the Siting Council, and the Department of Energy & Environmental Protection held a meeting earlier this year to hammer out the conflicts they had in order to get the ban lifted.

“We addressed all of their concerns in the way that we could,” said Melanie Bachman, acting executive director of the Connecticut Siting Council, regulator of wind projects.

If the ban is lifted Tuesday, that should leave enough time for a planned 10-12 megawatt wind farm in Ashford and Union to move toward completion by the end of next year, a key date in obtaining a special federal tax rebate.

“If the moratorium is not lifted this meeting, then it will be almost impossible for us to meet our deadline,” said Adam Cohen, vice president and founder of Texas-based Pioneer Green Energy, which is developing the Ashford project. “It doesn't make our project not commercially viable, but it does make it more expensive for Connecticut ratepayers.”

The moratorium drags back to June 2011 when the legislature — at the behest of a citizen's group opposed to turbine development in Prospect — banned the construction of new wind turbines until the Siting Council wrote regulations pertaining to height, setback, impact on neighboring properties, and other measures.

The Siting Council and the regulations committee sparred back and forth several times over proposed regulations, with the committee members rejecting the council's would-be rules over issues like the size of the turbines, decommissioning of wind projects, and impact on local communities. Meanwhile, the citizen's group FairWindCT raised new objections with each subsequent set of regulations, making sure to call each member of the committee before votes were held.

By sitting all the key players together before the regulations went to a vote, the Siting Council crafted a plan likely to be approved by the committee, said State. Sen. Andres Ayala (D-Bridgeport), co-chair of the regulations committee.

“We should be able to cast a vote in support of the wind regs,” Ayala said. “I hope the other members of the committee agree with me.”

The first major change has to do with how far a turbine must be from an adjacent property line, which is a sticking point for FairWindCT. The Siting Council did not change the requirement that the setback must be at least 1.5 times the size of the turbine.

However, the council did make the waiver requirement more difficult to obtain. If the wind developer and the adjacent property owner agree, the council can waive the setback requirements through a two-thirds majority vote, changed from a simple majority vote.

The second major change has to do with decommissioning funds for wind projects. Developers must provide upfront financial assurance for the eventual takedown of the turbines, after the development has reached the end of its useful life. The funding level depends on a projects' size and complexity.

Noujaim said the decommissioning provision was the key for his vote of approval. Coming from a Waterbury community that is full of brownfields and abandoned manufacturing sites, Noujaim wanted takedown funding for turbines available from the start.

“I did not want 30 years from now to have these windmills have the same impact that brownfields have now,” Noujaim said. “This has been resolved by the Siting Council.”

FairWindCT still objects to the regulations, saying the setback requirements need to be more than 1.5 times the size of any turbine. President Joyce Hemingson told her members to call and email the committee members to let them know the setback needs to be larger.

If the committee does approve the regulations on Earth Day, that should leave enough time for the Pioneer project in Ashford to get the federal production tax credit, which provides a 2.3 cent corporate tax credit to the project owner for every kilowatt hour of electricity produced, said Cohen.

Pioneer has been testing wind speeds on the site since 2011 for a planned wind farm with four-to-eight turbines. If completed, the company could either contract with the state's utilities for the electricity generated or sell it directly on the New England regional power market. Pioneer also would earn renewable energy credits for every megawatt hour generated.

The federal tax credit expired at the end of 2013, but because Pioneer had the financing in place by that deadline, it could make a legitimate argument that enough of its project was underway to merit the tax credit, Cohen said. However, the project must be in service by the end of 2015, or the turbines would be completely ineligible for the credit.

“This is cutting it close to being able to finish the project by the end of 2015, but we can do it if they pass the regulations in this meeting,” Cohen said.

Despite the Pioneer project and possibly two others that Bachman said might file for approval if the ban is lifted, Connecticut never will be a significant wind state because wind speeds here are only high enough for turbines along Long Island Sound and a few other higher elevation areas.

The state has only one operating wind turbine in New Haven, and the Prospect project that spurred FairWindCT to push for the ban has been mired in a lawsuit with the citizen's group since the project was approved in 2011.

In the U.S., 12 states produce 80 percent of the wind power, according to the U.S. Energy Information Administration. Texas leads the way followed by Iowa, California, Oklahoma, Illinois, Kansas, Minnesota, Oregon, Colorado, Washington, North Dakota, and Wyoming.

Connecticut, in fact, is tied for dead last in the nation with 0 thousand megawatt hours of wind power annually.

While not leading to a flush of new projects, the lifting of the wind ban would erase a stigma for a state that views itself as a progressive leader in clean energy and is seeking 27 percent of its electricity from renewables by 2020, Cohen said.

If Connecticut wants to make a significant splash in the renewables market and have a healthy variety of in-state generation, then wind power has to be part of the mix, Cohen said.n

Sign up for Enews


Order a PDF