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If amendments to Senate Bill 862 pass local Va. ordinance may stand

RICHMOND, Va. – Tazewell County’s existing ridgeline protection ordinance may still stand if several amendments being sought to a controversial bill proposed by a Virginia Beach lawmaker are approved.

“Senate Bill 862 did come up in Commerce and Labor, but it was passed by for the day, which means it won’t happen until (next) Monday,” Senator Phillip Puckett, D-Russell, said. “The explanations I got is there are amendments being prepared that would make it abundantly clear that this piece of legislation wouldn’t override any local ordinance.”

However, Puckett cautioned Monday that he hasn’t seen the proposed amendments being sought by several entities, including the Virginia Municipal League and the Virginia Association of Counties.

Puckett is one of 13 lawmakers serving on the committee that will determine if the legislation makes it to the full Senate,

“It sounds like we are (moving in the right direction),” Puckett said. “But again I haven’t seen that amendment. I just want to make it perfectly clear.”

Regardless of what the proposed amendments say, Puckett said he will still vote in opposition to the legislation being sought by Sen. Frank Wagner, R-Virginia Beach. “I pretty much made up my mind that I’m not voting for it regardless of what amendment is put in it,” Puckett said.

Senate Bill 862 as originally proposed would amend state code as it relates to the Commonwealth’s Energy Policy. The legislation would require every locality in the Commonwealth to adopt an ordinance that provides criteria to be addressed in renewable energy projects that is consistent with the state’s energy policies.

Tazewell County’s ridgeline protection ordinance was adopted by the county Board of Supervisors last February. It basically prohibits the construction of tall structures on certain protected ridgelines, including East River Mountain. Dominion is still hoping to construct a large-scale wind turbine farm along the ridgelines of East River Mountain.

A message left Monday by the Daily Telegraph with Wagner seeking an explanation regarding the proposed legislation wasn’t immediately returned.

In the meantime, members of the House are keeping a close eye on the bill, according to Anthony Reedy, legislative aid to Delegate Anne B. Crockett Stark, R-Wythe.

“We are keeping an eye on that bill, and Delegate Crockett-Stark is opposed to it,” Reedy said. “She is opposed to the legislation, and is keeping an eye on it on the Senate side. We’ve gotten several e-mails and phone calls, and of course when the group from Tazewell County was up here last week, a lot of them had discussed the issue with her.”

Reedy said the deadline for introducing legislation in response to Wagner’s legislation has essentially passed.

“You can put legislation in after the deadline, but you have to have the unanimous consent of the entire 100 members of the House of Delegates,” Reedy said.

Ann Robinson, a member of the Mountain Preservation Association, a group opposed to the wind turbine project on East River Mountain, said the group is closely following Wagner’s bill.

“I am very concerned that this legislation would negatively impact Tazewell County’s ridgeline protection ordinance in addition to setting state standards for wind energy,” Robinson said. “Currently, Tazewell County does not have a wind energy ordinance, and I would venture to say only one or two counties in the whole state of Virginia have wind energy regulation. It could also nullify Bland County’s wind ordinance because it would not be in alignment with the Virginia Energy Policy on Renewables. This legislation could potentially trump and preempt any counties desire to regulate wind energy the way they may wish to govern their locality.”

Robinson said the Mountain Preservation Association wants to know why the legislation is necessary.

“Who does it benefit?” Robinson asked. “It is another attempt to force state mandates down the throats of the local governments. While Virginia is leading the nation in fighting the mandate of Obamacare, so goes Frank Wagner in attempting to do the very same thing of forcing a ridiculous renewable energy policy on the state’s local governments.”