So the Commonwealth of Virginia wants to be a shining star in the world of renewable energy. A laudable goal.
We already have a policy in place, and session after session in the General Assembly, there are new bills aimed at pushing a directive on counties and cities: Support this vision, or we’ll try to make you..
Sound like a threatened mandate? Of course. And our elected officials are quick to note the push is far from over. We are likely to see legislation promoting renewable power surface again and again – and not just from the state level.
In a Feb. 17 commentary for the Thomas Jefferson Institute, director David Schnare pointed to Virginia Gov. Bob McDonnell’s response following the federal government’s announcement for off-shore wind energy plans. McDonnell said Virginia should use “a diverse portfolio of fuels, including . . . offshore and onshore wind . . . . At the same time we must also maintain reasonable energy costs and a reliable, consistent supply.”
“Problem is, you can’t do both,” Schnare said. “Two recent, peer-reviewed and unimpeached studies explain why wind energy, a 17th century technology, has no sensible place in a 21st century civilization. The energy windmills offer is not free, not clean, not reliable and not consistent. And it doesn’t create new jobs.”
Schnare, a senior attorney and environmental scientist at the Environmental Protection Agency with a mile-long resume, noted that according to one of the studies, “to enjoy the increased number of blackouts and brownouts from reliance on wind power, you will have the honor of losing between $350 and $1,300 in disposable family income.”
The latest state bill from Sen. Frank Wagner of Virginia Beach is only one of many proposed in recent years. This time, Senate Bill 862, a measure he hoped would require local governments to act on wind and solar project sites, lost its teeth before it passed the Senate and House. But don’t think for a minute this is the end of it.
Wagner, who was the key player in passing the Commonwealth Energy Policy several years ago, remains committed to seeing Virginia welcome and support all manner of power plants. The problem is, he hopes new laws can make it easy for developers to install their projects, but he seems to give little regard to what individuals, and local governments, think is important in their own areas – the places they love, own property, pay taxes, and raise children.
Sorry, Senator, but Virginians, and most especially residents of Bath and Highland counties, don’t like giving up their rights to have a voice in how to protect their land, their natural resources, or their back yards as they see fit – whether their homes are in the mountains or on the shorelines. If Sen. Wagner has his way, eventually, we will lose that freedom.
Just because the bill passed this week is seemingly innocuous on some levels does not mean planners and supervisors in Bath and Highland, or in other localities, should rest on their laurels.
Bath County has spent many long months working on its small wind ordinance, and we hope Bath will move forward on an ordinance addressing commercial wind facilities, too. A great deal of research and debate has gone into the process so far – clear thinking about what Bath County should, or could, accommodate in a way that balances the rights of property owners with potential energy needs.
It won’t be long before some kind of new law requires localities to move forward on renewable power before they’re ready, before they’ve had the time to do their homework and consult with the people they represent.
We hope Bath County can get its ordinances in place before the state requires something different.
Highland leaders, unfortunately, are still very far behind. It’s the one county where an industrial wind power project has moved forward, albeit under heavy fire, and yet our leaders have done nothing to protect us against another years-long controversy when the next wind project comes along.
We know our current ordinances, in spite of all we’ve been through, remain inadequate where wind power is concerned. Despite the urging of planners and the committee members who helped forge the land use plan draft, supervisors have shied away from anything meaningful – no ridgeline protection, no wind power zoning, no serious mention in the comprehensive plan. Zip.
We hear our elected officials talk about the lack of infrastructure, and resort to that excuse as reason to dismiss any real concerns about other projects here. And we understand their concerns about more litigation. But if they believe Virginia will continue pushing localities to welcome power projects with open arms, they need to help prepare us with something tangible, something in which we will have a voice, before the state strips them of that authority altogether.
Complacency is not an option. The worst, we think, is yet to come.
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