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Utility bills concern Highlanders  

RICHMOND – Of the two Senate bills introduced in this session of the General Assembly related to wind energy, one still sits in committee and another has been withdrawn.

Sen. Frank Wagner (R-Va. Beach) introduced the two pieces of legislation that affect renewable energy facilities.

SB 321

Wagner’s Senate Bill 321 proposal would amend the section of the Code of Virginia related to the environmental impact of renewable energy electric utilities. It stated the Department of Environmental Quality must enter into a memorandum of agreement with the SCC to coordinate environmental reviews of proposed utilities. The change in the code language proposed by Wagner (the only patron of the bill) would have added, “When considering the cumulative impact of new and proposed renewable energy electric generating facilities É the department shall consult with interested agencies of the commonwealth that have expertise in natural resource management and develop a coordinated recommendation on the potential environmental impacts of the proposed renewable energy electric generating facility. The recommendation shall specify any additional site studies, including the scope and duration thereof, necessary to minimize adverse environmental impacts.”

The bill was referred to the Committee on Agriculture, Conservation and Natural Resources, where it was unanimously passed from committee, but with different language. It now reads, “When considering the environmental impact of any renewable energy electrical utility facility, the Department shall consult with interested agencies of the Commonwealth that have expertise in natural resource management. The Department shall submit recommendations to the State Corporation Commission that take into account the information and comments submitted by such natural resource agencies concerning the potential environmental impacts of the proposed electric generating facility. The Department’s recommendations shall include: (i) specific mitigation measures considered necessary to mini- mize adverse environmental impacts; (ii) any additional site-specific studies considered to be necessary; and (iii) the scope and duration of any such studies. Nothing in this subsection shall alter or affect the Rules of Practice and Procedure of the State Corporation Commission.”

The substitute bill passed the senate unanimously and it has been communicated to the House.

The related house bill (HB 1466) is similar, requiring the DEQ to evaluate all the information from other state agencies and pull together a consensus recommendation for the SCC. This bill was referred to the House Committee on Agriculture, Chesapeake, and Natural Resources, where it remains this week.

SB 324

Wagner’s second bill would exempt renewable electric facilities of this size from SCC authority altogether. It amends language under the Utility Facilities Act that redefines what a renewable energy, public utility is, such that any plant generating less than 50 megawatts does not fall under such SCC review. It does mean facilities that size are still subject to local government reviews, however.

It was also referred to the Committee on Agriculture, Conservation and Natural Resources, where it sailed through. It was taken up by the Committee on Commerce and Labor Monday, but Wagner, who had introduced it primarily in response to the length of time HNWD’s project was under review by the SCC, removed it from consideration and it will not be considered again until 2009. Those attending the committee meeting report that Wagner withdrew it saying he wanted to work further with those who had concerns about streamlining the SCC process.

The house version of this bill (HB 1443) calls for a streamlined permitting process on utilities generating power with solar, wind or biomass. It keeps permitting fees at $50 or less, and requires the SCC to act on permit applications in 60 days. This bill was referred to the Committee on Commerce and Labor, and now sits in an energy subcommittee awaiting review.

BY ANNE ADAMS • STAFF WRITER

THE RECORDER, January 31, 2008

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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