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Putting the Spin on Wind  

It’s going to get complicated and emotional, but whatever comes out in the wash is certain to affect the backyards of all Highland residents one way or another. And certainly, those of all Virginians.

Editor's note: a 'Flow Chart on Wind Energy Players in Virginia' that accompanied this article is available as a 'document' (11/18/05). The flow chart is an initial effort to show the interconnections/collusion between the different entities working to promote wind development in Virginia.

MONTEREY— The rush to capitalize on
the perceived popularity of wind generated
“green” power has begun in earnest and it’s
clear there is little in place now that can slow
its momentum.

The reality of commercial wind energy taking
root in Virginia has been headed for the
fray of state politics and interest-group maneuvering
for at least a couple of years and, as
expected, we’re beginning to see players
emerge and positions staked out – all of
which will greatly impact Highland County
sooner or later.

In a matter of days from the time Highland
New Wind Development LLC applied for a
state certificate to build a 39-megawatt wind
utility here, regional groups mostly in support
of wind power have issued reports, proposals,
and legislation. Interest groups and lawmakers
will be putting forth reams of statistics and
opinion on how Virginia should address the
rising demand for electricity, and what roles
should be played on the state’s stage by traditional
fossil fuels, natural gas, and renewables
such as solar and wind.

There’s little emerging that wasn’t already
under way, but as various studies and stances
begin to surface at an accelerated rate, Highlanders
should know who the players are, how
they’re interconnected, and what kind of political
clout they carry.

These groups will battle for Virginia’s energy
policy over many months and years, to
be sure. But what kind of legislation survives
the General Assembly – and when – is
anybody’s guess at this point.

The two main proposals emerging now are:

¦ A 30-page draft legislation on creating a
statewide energy policy; and

¦ A push for state renewable portfolio standards
from the Chesapeake Climate Action

Energy policy proposed

A special legislative subcommittee on energy
policy (under the Virginia Coal and Energy
Commission) met Nov. 9 and reviewed a
bill drafted by Sen. Frank Wagner (R-Virginia

The proposal outlines nine energy objectives
and charges Virginia’s Department of
Mines, Minerals and Energy with developing
a plan to implement the policy.

But there’s one particular section that
alarms Highland County residents and landowners.
The bill, as drafted, would not allow
local governments to use their comprehensive
plans and zoning law ordinances when it
comes to deciding on proper placement of industrial

Essentially, it proposes the State Corporation
Commission determine the most economically
feasible sites for commercial wind utilities,
nuclear power plants, and natural gas terminals.

Once those places are identified, if the landowners
want to install an industrial wind utility,
local governing ordinances won’t apply.
If a city or county had a moratorium on industrial
wind facilities, for example, it would be
considered null and void under this legislation.
If any local zoning ordinances require
wind projects to have a variance or permit of
some kind, as was true in Highland, those rules
would not apply either.

The SCC was unaware the legislation was
in the works.

“It was as much a surprise to us as anyone,”
said Ken Schrad this week. Schrad is
the SCC’s division of information resources
director. “It wasn’t our idea … it was news to
us, too … We all kind of scratched our heads,”
he said.

Schrad stressed, however, the draft bill was
still only in a subcommittee review and had
“a lot of stuff to go through before it got entered
as a bill.”

Traditional utilities already have certain
exemptions from local land use regulations,
and although private utilities do not yet get
the same treatment, Schrad says the emergence
of smaller, privately held utilities like HNWD
is beginning to raise questions about state policies.
“As you get more players, you get more
of these issues coming up,” he said.

Schrad said he didn’t want to speak for lawmakers,
but believes Wagner is looking for
mechanisms that would help identify feasible
sites for power companies who might contribute
to the escalating demand for electricity. “I
think he’s trying to watch out for Virginia’s
future energy needs,” Schrad said.

One of the problems utilities have always
had is that installing power plants, and the
transmission lines they need, results almost
always in opposition from the folks who are
going to have to live near it, and look at it.
“You always hear someone say, ‘I don’t want
it in my back yard,’ but everyone wants to use
electricity,” Schrad said. “There are three million
households in Virginia who want power.”

The SCC already has the power to trump
local land use laws when it comes to transmission
lines, and now, Schrad notes, the federal
government is finding ways to trump even
state rules about approving and siting them.
“You’re going to have a ‘not in my back yard’
scenario for any type of facility.”

The special subcommittee meets again Nov.
28 for further discussion.

Mandating the use of ‘green energy’

The private sector is working hard for leverage
as well. A lobbying group has recently
issued a study trying to support the notion that
renewable portfolio standards (RPS) are essential
for Virginia, and can be economically

An RPS exists in about 15 states already,
and such standards require utilities to purchase
a certain percentage of their power from renewable
electricity producers such as wind and

In Virginia, Chesapeake Climate Action
Network is pushing for an RPS just like it did
in Maryland. CCAN is a three-year-old, nonprofit
lobbying group advocating for issues on
global warming in the Maryland, Virginia, and
Washington, D.C. region.

Using a variety of foundation grants and
private contributions, the group has about
2,000 supporters and is headquartered in
Takoma Park, Md. One of its efforts to draw
attention to its concerns included dumping one
ton of coal on the lawn of the Capitol to protest
the federal energy bill.

Last year, it led its campaign supporting
renewable standards in Maryland. The standards
were eventually enacted, and require 7.5
percent of that state’s electricity to be in the
form of renewables by 2013. In addition, it
had a hand in a new Montgomery County, Md.,
resolution that requires the county to purchase
5 percent of its power from wind energy companies.

Some of CCAN’s supporters include names
familiar to Highlanders, like Mitch King of
Old Mill Power Co. and Alden Hathaway of
Environmental Resources Trust. Both have
been strong supporters of Highland New Wind
Development; both are Virginia Wind Energy
Collaborative partners.

CCAN’s report, released last week, is a
cost-benefit analysis, and concludes Virginia
should implement renewable portfolio standards
mandating that 15-20 percent of electricity
come from renewable sources by 2015.
CCAN claims that would result in up to $30
million in savings for consumers and businesses
over the next decade.

There are differences of opinion, however,
about quantifying what kind of economic benefit
RPS have statewide.

CCAN believes any analysis of “green energy”
benefits would not be complete without
including potential savings gleaned from reducing
fossil fuels and other issues that benefit
the environment.

A different study commissioned by
Virginia’s Commission on Electric Utility
Restructuring will not take those potential environmental
financial benefits into account
because there are a number of people who
believe they cannot be adequately quantified.

The seed discussion

Last year, a group of various state-level
“stakeholders” began talks about an RPS. Participants
included folks from Appalachian
Power Co., Dominion Virginia Power, Environmental
Resources Trust, Highland New
Wind Development, and the Sierra Club,
among others.

The group’s facilitator was August
Wallmeyer. His remarks last November indicated
the group’s diversity resulted in several
major differences of opinion. Those who represented
renewable energy companies and
environmental groups generally advocated an
RPS in Virginia. Electric utility and cooperative
representatives, however, felt there were
too many unanswered questions to mandate
standards just yet.

After four meetings and considerable discussion,
Wallmeyer wrote, there was “general
agreement that increased use of renewables in
Virginia would provide various benefits, but
current cost/benefit analyses do not exist to
quantify them. For example, there are claims
of health, economic, employment and other
benefits arising from increased use of renewable
energy sources, but little documentation
exists to substantiate the claims.”

There was also general agreement that so
far, power from renewables is more expensive
than that provided by traditional sources.

One thing they apparently all agreed on,
Wallmeyer stated, was that “more information
is needed about the purported benefits of increased
use of renewable energy within
Virginia’s restructured market before legislation
should be proposed.”

The group concluded a good, independent
study of the costs and benefits should be conducted,
and commissioned Virginia Tech’s
Center for Coal and Energy Research to do

In the meantime, CCAN (which had not
participated in the stakeholders’ group but had
been working with some of the individuals
involved) forged ahead with its own study.

CCAN spokesperson Diana Dascalu released
a preview of its report to a few people,
including Highland resident Rick Webb who
had asked about it several weeks ago.

She explained to him CCAN’s report was
“meant to combat whatever findings are going
to come out of the (Virginia Tech study) …
that was commissioned by the CEUR.”

Dascalu said the stakeholders’ group “came
close to agreeing on a 15 percent RPS with
the utilities and then Dominion pulled their
support at the last minute, before a bill was to
be introduced into the General Assembly.”

CCAN felt the Virginia Tech study, which
has not yet been released, would not address
the “big picture.”

CCAN’s report is sure to have its critics,
most of whom are still digesting the material
and data used to reach its conclusions.

What next?

As federal, state, semi-public, and private
organizations and agencies jockey for position
or issue conclusions on energy policy in Virginia,
Highland residents won’t be the only
ones trying to keep track of which group does

With huge amounts of money on the line
and the perception of political gain to be had
by supporting “green energy,” there is tremendous
pressure being exerted to move this process
along quickly. Broad generalities often
serve as facts, because facts about wind energy
from any point of view are still few and
far between.

It’s going to get complicated and emotional,
but whatever comes out in the wash is certain
to affect the backyards of all Highland residents
one way or another. And certainly, those
of all Virginians.


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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