One senator wants to strip a layer of protection from the permitting of smaller wind power projects.
Sen. Frank Wagner doesn’t want the State Corporation Commission scrutinizing small windmill farms. He’s proposed legislation to exempt wind farms, like the Highland County project, that produce less than 50 megawatts from SCC authority.
That would be a big mistake, eliminating very necessary environmental safeguards.
Small wind farms have the potential to cause a lot of environmental damage.
“There is no comprehensive and reliable state-level environmental review of wind-energy projects other than that by the SCC,” Rick Webb, a scientist at the University of Virginia and opponent of the Highland project, told the Richmond Times-Dispatch.
Wagner says his bill won’t affect the Highland farm, which has already received a permit from the SCC.
Some attorneys question that assumption, though, and it doesn’t take much of a leap to imagine Highland New Wind Development using the legislation to get out of the strict monitoring conditions the SCC permit requires.
The Highland project demonstrates the need for SCC scrutiny and permitting – even for smaller wind farms.
Wagner said the Highland permitting shows the need for streamlining the permitting process. But in 2006 , he helped pass a bill that promised to, well, streamline the permitting process for renewable energy sources, including wind. Regulations implementing that legislation were just written last year.
Does this year’s proposal mean the 2006 bill was a bust? Or has Wagner failed to give his own initiative time to work?
We supported the Highland project, but only because the SCC permit required monitoring that would show whether the number of bird and bat kills were acceptable. The permit also required the company to put up a bond that would cover the cost of taking the windmills down if the environmental cost proves too high.
Those are important caveats that would not have been part of a process that didn’t include the SCC.
Wagner’s bill would strip a layer of protection from the approval process.
It should be defeated.
23 January 2008
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