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TAZEWELL, Va. – Legislation introduced by a Virginia Beach lawmaker could potentially trump Tazewell County’s new ridgeline protection ordinance, officials said Monday.
Senate Bill 862 would amend state code as it relates to the Commonwealth’s Energy Policy. The legislation introduced by Sen. Frank Wagner, R-Virginia Beach, addresses the role of local governments as it relates to the goal of the Commonwealth to promote the generation of energy from renewable sources, including wind energy.
The Senate’s Commerce and Labor Committee didn’t act upon the proposed legislation Monday, but it is expected to come back up for discussion next week, Sen. Phillip Puckett, D-Russell, said. Puckett is one of 13 lawmakers serving on the Commerce and Labor Committee that will determine if the bill makes it to the full Senate.
“It was passed by for the day,” Puckett said of the proposed legislation. “I’ve gotten several phone calls and messages on it. You might recall that at the chamber meeting in Bluefield there was a reporter who asked both Delegate (James W. “Will”) Morefield and I and Delegate (Anne B.) Crockett-Stark about the windmill piece. I was not aware, and neither were the other two delegates, that there was any legislation pending.”
Puckett said he has since learned of the legislation introduced by Wagner. When asked if Wagner’s bill could override Tazewell County’s locally adopted ridgeline protection ordinance, Puckett said, “I do think it could. I think that bill could, and that’s why I can’t support it.”
The ridgeline ordinance adopted by the county Board of Supervisors last year on a 3-2 vote essentially prohibits the construction of tall structures on certain protected ridgelines, including East River Mountain. Dominion Energy is still hoping to construct a large-scale wind turbine farm along the ridgelines of East River Mountain.
Puckett said he supports wind energy, and wind turbines, as a part of Virginia’s renewable energy package. However, Puckett said he also supports the decision of the Tazewell County Board of Supervisors.
“The Tazewell County Board of Supervisors have already voted, and said they don’t want windmills,” Puckett said. “They put the ordinance in place. I don’t support that (Wagner’s legislation) because Tazewell County clearly said we don’t want it. We certainly support the local board having the authority to direct what they want in the county.”
David Anderson, chairman of the county Board of Supervisors, said the proposed legislation is open to interpretation.
“It’s way too open to interpretation,” Anderson said. “I’ve read it a couple of times. At first I had a little bit of concern that it could supersede our local ordinance and it has given me a lot of concern now.”
Anderson said he will attempt to meet with Wagner face to face in Richmond to see what his intent was in introducing the bill.
“I would love to know what his thought process is,” Anderson said. “I would hate to put words in his mouth. But if he’s just looking for support from the governor on renewable energy, then I applaud him. But if it could override the local government, then I have a lot of concern.”
Anderson said he will also will meet with Crocket-Stark and Morefield in an attempt to determine if the legislation could impact the local ridgeline ordinance.
Puckett said the legislation in question is expected to come back up for discussion in the Commerce and Labor Committee next Monday.
“I don’t know personally that this will get out committee, but it might,” Puckett said. “But I’m not voting for it.”
However, Puckett said other localities, including Wise County, are currently supportive of wind turbine projects.
“I support wind energy with the windmills being a part of the renewable energy package,” Puckett said. “It in no way though would particularly replace coal. It just wouldn’t produce enough electricity to do that. But in other places it (wind energy) could be real popular. And keep in mind that people n Wise County are looking at windmills.”
Although his office hasn’t conducted a formal survey of Tazewell County citizens, Puckett said it would appear that support for the proposed Bluestone River Wind Farm is mixed. Puckett said some citizens support it, and others are opposed to it.
“I think it is a little both ways,” Puckett said. “It is hard for me to judge the particulars, but I would say very strongly opposed in the Bluefield area. I feel like it is more of a mix of people that feel like that could be a part of the energy puzzle, and others that simply don’t want the windmills at all due to the beauty of the mountains.”
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