RICHMOND – The Senate Bill requiring localities to have wind energy ordinances remains in play this week, but those opposed to its language are suggesting changes to make it more “palatable.”
Sen. Frank Wagner (R-Virginia Beach) introduced SB 862, “Commonwealth Energy Policy,” Jan. 10.
The measure would require all counties to adopt an ordinance that outlines criteria for siting renewable energy projects, including wind generation plants such as the one proposed by Highland New Wind Development on Allegheny Mountain.
Local ordinances would have to include provisions for “reasonable requirements” that limit noise, require setbacks, protect viewsheds, limit shadow flicker, and address decommissioning – removing a facility that is no longer in use.
One group strongly opposed to Wagner’s bill is the Virginia Association of Counties, which staunchly favors protecting local authority on most issues. The organization contacted Wagner’s office last week, in hopes of crafting different language that keeps local decision-making intact.
Larry Land, VACo’s director of policy development, said this week that alternative language has been proposed to Wagner, but nothing about the bill has changed yet.
Wagner’s bill was referred to the Senate committee on commerce and labor, where it was discussed only briefly Monday. It will come up again this Monday, perhaps with an amended version.
Land declined to explain what VACo’s proposed changes to the bill are. “There has been some discussion about a substitute version,” he said. “We called them and there were talks between us and advocates of the bill, but there has been no more progress.”
Land said VACo “could not support anything” that weakens local authority. He said VACo has not had any discussions with individuals from Highland New Wind Development, but has talked with the Virginia Alternative and Renewable Energy Associa- tion. “That’s the group that’s supporting this bill,” Land said. “And we disagree with them on this one thing. We cannot accept anything that weakens local authority. That’s fundamental to our mission.”
VACo might support a bill of this nature, but not if it required county governments to create ordinances. “We can accept ‘guidance,’ but we are duty bound to protect local authority,” he said.
The Virginia Alternative and Renewable Energy Association (VA-AREA) is a membership group that, among other things, lobbies on behalf of its members in the General Assembly and promotes and supports renewable energy developers. Registered lobbyist Kenneth G. Hutcheson names VAAREA as principal.
Hutcheson joined the Williams Mullen law firm last year, in its government relations practice as a director of government affairs. According to the firm’s news release on the announcement, Hutcheson was a director at Troutman Sanders Strategies, and a principal of Old Dominion Strategies LLC where he managed statewide political campaigns for more than a dozen current and former members of the state Senate and House of Delegates. Hutcheson founded VA-AREA in December 2008; it now represents more than 50 companies and organizations. Gob. Bob McDonnell appointed Hutcheson in November 2009 to the Energy Subcommittee of the Economic Development Committee of his transition team, the release explains.
Hutcheson could not be reached for comment by press time this week.
Others opposed to Wagner’s bill are concerned about what could happen to existing ordinances, particularly those that do not favor wind energy development. Tazewell County, for example, passed an ordinance last year prohibiting tall structures on certain ridgelines in response to a Dominion Power proposal for an industrial wind energy project along East River Mountain. Sen. Phillip Puckett (D-Russell County), of that area, serves on the commerce and labor committee, and has said he will oppose Wagner’s legislation with or without changes to its language.
Bath County is one of the counties currently working on wind siting ordinances. As noted in this week’s Recorder, planning officials are making significant steps toward finalizing an ordinance addressing smaller, residential-type wind towers. Once that’s in place, planners intend to work on an ordinance addressing larger, commercial wind facilities.
Sen. Creigh Deeds, who represents Bath County, said last week that, like Puckett, he generally favors local government control over land use issues like wind development.
The commerce and labor committee meets again Monday, Jan. 31.
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