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Energy proposal may curb local authority  

Virginia local governments would lose zoning and land-use authority over designated sites for wind farms under a proposal being studied by a legislative panel.

Virginia local governments would lose zoning and land-use authority over designated sites for wind farms, nuclear plants and other low-emission energy facilities under a proposal being studied by a legislative panel.

A subcommittee of the Virginia Coal and Energy Commission, made up of state lawmakers and interested citizens, is working on legislation that would create a state energy policy.

State Sen. John Watkins, R-Powhatan, leads the panel. It reviewed a 29-page bill yesterday that would promote policies such as off-shore energy development, grants and tax refunds for buying and using clean and efficient energy, and a requirement that new state buildings be built to energy-efficiency standards.

One provision would have the State Corporation Commission identify the best sites across Virginia for wind-energy farms. It would also identify the three best sites for liquefied natural gas terminals and nuclear power plants. The SCC would develop a scoring system for the sites that could be challenged by land owners.

Sites identified for low-emission facilities would be exempt from local land-use plans and zoning laws if a plant were built.

The siting of energy facilities often proves difficult. For instance, a wind-farm project proposed for a ridge top in Highland County has met with strong local opposition.

Del. Harry J. Parrish, R-Manassas, questioned the stripping of siting authority from local governments. Sen. Frank W. Wagner, R-Virginia Beach, who helped draft the energy bill, said that local governments would be able to participate in identifying sites and that projects still would be required to get the necessary permits.

James Campbell, executive director of the Virginia Association of Counties, indicated that localities would probably oppose efforts to strip them of their land-use authority.

"Land-use control and management is a local authority that local governing bodies could better address," Campbell said. Localities have consistently resisted efforts by state government to interfere with that authority.

Watkins said his group’s goal is not to come up with ways of dealing with short-term disruptions.

The group will look at the effects of existing state laws and regulations and at broader policies that could make the state more independent where energy is concerned.

Energy needs affect all citizens and the panel has to look at the issue from that view, Watkins said.

Any ideas? Staff writer Greg Edwards can be reached at (804) 649-6390 or gedwards@timesdispatch.com


This article is the work of the source indicated. Any opinions expressed in it are not necessarily those of National Wind Watch.

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