New England States Consider Wind Power Siting Legislative and Regulatory Changes
Across New England, the rapid growth of wind power installations along with the increase in individual turbine sizes over the past few years brings wind projects into closer proximity with neighbors, prompting some states and local communities to re-evaluate appropriate siting. During the 2012-2013 session, state legislatures throughout the region considered a variety of bills with varying levels of restrictions to wind siting standards, as well as statewide wind siting reforms. Among numerous far-reaching bills introduced by legislators to address the siting and permitting of wind development, only a few ultimately passed, while some were retained or carried over for further consideration in 2014. Those bills that passed into law institute only limited changes to current practices.
In addition, several major wind siting reforms are underway across the region, aimed at providing improved information, appropriate standards, and greater confidence that operating experience will match predicted impacts. In some states, new regulations and siting procedures include greater municipal participation and place stronger emphasis on addressing the potential environmental and health impacts of wind development. With various legislative and regulatory developments in progress, wind siting will continue to be a hot topic in 2014.
The Wind Siting Reform Act is awaiting action by the Massachusetts Joint Committee on Telecommunications, Utilities, and Energy, where the legislative session continues until January 2015. The two sister bills, HB 2980 and SB 1591, are reincarnations of a wind siting reform bill carried over from the last legislative session. The bills would streamline the siting and permitting process for land-based wind projects at the state and local levels. It appears that this session's siting bills may face the same fate as their predecessor because they are not expected to be heard in the committee's upcoming hearings between September and November.
During this legislative session, the Joint Committee on Public Health also introduced several wind energy bills concerning the potential health impacts of wind turbines on neighborhoods. The committee's proposals focus on soliciting institutional efforts to evaluate the health impacts of wind turbines and to support administrative and legislative changes to mitigate any adverse health impacts from wind turbines on residents. Two accompanying bills, HB 2049 and SB 1078, would create a working group to develop a community review process for the siting and health impacts of wind turbines on residential neighborhoods. At a legislative hearing in July 2013, turbine opponents from impacted communities such as Falmouth and Fairhaven testified in support of these bills.
In parallel, the Patrick Administration established the Wind Turbine Noise Technical Advisory Group (WNTAG) in June 2013 to solicit input on wind turbine sound policy and provide recommendations to improve the Department of Environmental Protection's regulations and acoustic standards concerning wind turbines. The group's work will be based on ongoing state research on wind turbine acoustics. It will also evaluate the sound sampling methodology adopted by the department in Falmouth and Fairhaven. The process is anticipated to be completed by the end of 2013 and may produce a proposal for modifying the state's current noise standard.
The Connecticut Siting Council released a new draft of its wind regulations after earlier drafts were twice rejected by the Legislative Regulation Review Committee. The regulations consider new requirements for setbacks, shadow flicker, and decommissioning. The draft also addresses issues pertaining to projects of different sizes, ice throw, blade throw, noise, and impact on natural resources. If adopted, the new regulations will also establish a public hearing process for all wind turbine projects. The latest version contained several minor changes to clarify vaguely worded provisions.
A House bill that would make the installation of small wind energy systems subject to municipal permitting and zoning ordinances was introduced at the beginning of the session. In March 2013, the House Committee on Municipal Government recommended holding the bill for further study, ending the chance for it to pass during the legislative session.
The Renewable Energy Siting Partnership released its final reports synthesizing the state's current understanding of land-based renewable energy resources, potential impacts, and siting considerations in Rhode Island. The final report was issued in two volumes:
Additionally, the Renewable Energy Siting Partnership created an online resource for energy data, including map viewers and siting tools to inform future decisions regarding land-based renewable energy development.
The Rhode Island Office of Energy Resources has plans to collect additional information from turbines operating in Rhode Island to:
- Compare all currently operating turbines in Rhode Island with the draft wind siting guidelines produced by the Statewide Planning Program's Wind Advisory Council (formerly Volume 3 of the RESP)
- Further examine shadow flicker impacts, including the use of the Renewable Energy Siting Partnership wind energy siting tool available on RIEnergy.org
- Gather acoustic data at existing turbines
- Analyze the impact of wind turbines and other "disamenities" on property values of adjacent dwellings using real estate data spanning the past 20 years.
The Maine Joint Legislative Committee on Energy, Utilities, and Technology considered five wind siting bills that could have restricted wind siting in the state. The only bill that passed into law, LD 385 (Chaptered Law 325), will have the least impact of the five siting bills introduced during this session. It aims to limit the impact of wind development on fir-heartleaved birch subalpine forest natural vegetation communities. The bill provides opportunities for the public to comment and request adjudicatory proceedings. It also requires all wind energy permits to incorporate best practice mitigation to reduce the impacts of wind projects on scenic, wildlife, and other resources. Further, it provides protection to a rare bird species, the Bicknell Thrush.
Another of the five bills, LD 616, would have introduced a series of limitations for wind energy development in expedited permitting areas as well as removing five unincorporated townships from the expedited permitting area under specific conditions. The Senate sent this bill back to the Committee on Energy, Utilities, and Technology for further study toward the end of the session, to be revisited in the 2014 legislative session.
The other three wind siting bills were also carried over to the 2014 legislative session. These include a bill that would require unregulated wind energy developments to meet stricter sound level standards, a bill that would restrict wind development near national parks and wilderness areas, and a bill that would impose additional requirements to the process for approving grid-scale wind energy development in unorganized or de-organized areas.
At the local level, several communities have moved forward with local wind ordinances and planning requirements. The town of Peru finalized a wind ordinance in 2012 before the expiration of its full moratorium in May 2013. While the town eventually raised the maximum height restriction in the draft regulations, the highly restrictive sound and setback ordinances remained in place. The draft ordinance still has to be submitted to the board of selectmen and go through a public hearing before taking effect. In March, Sangerville residents voted to place a 6-month moratorium on all commercial wind projects.
Despite concerns expressed by the Senate, Governor Hansen signed a site evaluation bill in June 2013 that could potentially delay the development timelines for all large energy projects in the state, including wind projects subject to New Hampshire Site Evaluation Committee (SEC) jurisdiction. The law requires the SEC to commission a study of site evaluation criteria and establishes a committee to study the criteria for siting wind power facilities and transmission facilities. The SEC must adopt rules by January 1, 2015. Several senate members worry that the new law will put several wind farm proposals on hold pending adoption of the new rules.
At the end of the legislative session, the House Committee on Science, Technology, and Energy retained several energy bills that would give local governments greater authority in the site evaluation process.
Several wind projects proposed in the same general area near Newfound Lake and Mount Cardigan have prompted voters from host communities to take several actions:
- Groton voters passed an initiative that requires project developers to set up a post-construction fund that covers the costs of decommissioning in the event a project ceases operations for a year.
- Grafton voters approved a symbolic measure asking the select board to reject the Wild Meadow Wind project, although the SEC has jurisdiction over the project approval process.
- Alexandria voters passed a resolution expressing opposition to wind development that would be visible from the town.
- Bridgewater voters passed an article that requires the town selectmen to file a petition every time the SEC receives an application for a wind energy site that affects the viewshed of Newfound Lake and/or Bridgewater, as seen from any point in town.
The state's Public Service Board currently has jurisdiction over wind siting and permitting issues. The lack of local inputs in the permitting process has created significant tension in areas of proposed wind development. In 2012, Governor Shumlin issued an executive order creating an independent panel to review siting practices for wind farms and other electric power projects. The Vermont Energy Siting Policy Commission completed its review and released its Final Report to the Governor and the Legislature in April 2013 with the following recommendations:
- Increase emphasis on energy planning at state, regional, and municipal levels, and provide funding and tools for such planning
- Simplify the existing tiered approach to siting, improve predictability and timing in the permitting process, and provide incentives for community-led projects
- Expand opportunities for public engagement
- Implement procedural changes to increase transparency, efficiency, and coordination
- Update environmental, health, and other protection guidelines.
Wind siting was also a major focus in Vermont this past legislative session. Legislative and regulatory activities in 2012 and 2013 reflected the tension between local siting control and the current centralized permitting model before the Vermont Public Service Board, accompanied by a stakeholder push for a comprehensive wind power moratorium. The highlight of the session was the passage of SB 30: An Act Relating to Siting of Electric Generation Plants. Throughout the legislative session, the bill went through various incarnations, wavering between a strict statewide moratorium and a modified permitting process in compliance with the state's existing siting review law. These versions of the bill - which would have dramatically changed the permitting landscape for the state by allowing local veto power - were met with strong resistance from renewable energy supporters. The version of the bill as ultimately passed lacked any actionable language and instead laid out a process for the House and Senate Committees on Natural Resources and Energy to jointly review the Governor's Siting Policy Commission Final Report between legislative sessions.
Earlier this year, a new and more restrictive bill was proposed that would prohibit wind development in any state park or forest, any natural and wilderness area protected or conserved under state laws, or on any land managed by the Agency of Natural Resources. Additionally, the bill would have given host and neighboring towns a say in the approval of any wind projects. The bill currently sits in the Committee on Natural Resource and Energy.
This information was last updated on 11/8/2013