RICHMOND – A bill addressing wind energy passed the House Tuesday, 95-0.
SB 862, proposed by Sen. Frank Wagner of Virginia Beach, stirred controversy in its original form. Individuals, and organizations such as the Virginia Association of Counties, had opposed language that required localities to enact ordinances that set criteria for siting solar and wind power facilities. They objected to a state law forcing local governments to take action, saying that amounted to usurping local authority on land use decisions.
Before the bill left the Senate Committee on Commerce and Labor, its language was changed so localities would not be required to enact such ordinances.
As it passed to the House on “crossover day,” the bill stated that any locality choosing to enact an ordinance for siting renewable energy projects (wind and solar) would make ordinances “consistent with” the state’s energy policy, and provide criteria for project sites.
Criteria included limiting noise and requiring buffer areas and setbacks. It also included addressing scenic areas and viewsheds, but those words were removed by the House Committee on Commerce and Labor before the measure came to a full House vote.
As passed, the legislation states such ordinances must be “consistent with” the Commonwealth Energy Policy, and provide “reasonable criteria” that provides for “the protection of the locality in a manner consistent with the goals of the commonwealth to promote the generation of energy from wind and solar resources; and include provisions establishing reasonable requirements upon the siting of any such renewable energy facility, including provisions limiting noise, requiring buffer areas and setbacks, and addressing generation facility decommissioning.”
Finally, it states, “Any measures required by the ordinance shall be consistent with the locality’s existing ordinances.”
The last sentence, as Sen. Creigh Deeds noted recently, seems to provide localities with the flexibility. Local governments could enact other ordinances addressing tall structures or ridgeline protection, for example, and if they choose to later enact an ordinance about wind or solar project sites, those would have to be consistent with already existing ordinances in place.
As Highland supervisor Robin Sullenberger has also noted, the impetus behind the bill appears to be for the state to “send a message” to local governments, that Virginia will continue to push for consistent renewable energy development and encourage all localities to support that effort.
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