Bluefield Daily Telegraph, Bluefield, WV

Local News

January 24, 2013

Legislation in General Assembly seeks renewable energy exemption

BLUEFIELD, Va. — Legislation that was introduced in the Virginia General Assembly last week apparently seeks to exempt electric utilities from local zoning and land use requirements.

On Jan. 18, State Senator Richard L. Saslaw, D-Springfield, introduced Senate Bill 1341, the “Renewable energy facilities; exemption from land use regulations,” bill. According to the bill summary, the bill: “Exempts certain electrical generation facilities powered by renewable sources of energy from local zoning and land use requirements. The exemption applies to a facility that is owned by an electric utility, has a capacity of at least four megawatts, is on a parcel of at least 25 acres, and has received all required approvals and permits from the State Corporation Commission and environmental regulators.”

While the legislation doesn’t speak directly to the apparent impasse that Dominion faced when the Tazewell County board of supervisors passed a ridgeline ordinance aimed at blocking Dominion from developing a 2,600-acre wind farm on its property in Tazewell County, at least one opponent to the development believes it says exactly that.

“It seems like we’ve been through all of this before,” Bluefield, Va., Mayor Donald Harris said. “I didn’t know anything about it until Tuesday. Several of us were in Richmond, Va., last week as part of Tazewell County Day at the General Assembly. If we would have known about Senator Saslaw’s bill we could have shared our thoughts about it while we were there.

“Charlie Stacy (eastern district representative of the Tazewell County board of supervisors) learned about it on Tuesday and told me as well as others,” Harris said.

“Charlie was in Richmond too. If we would have known it then, we could have at least expressed our feelings on the matter.”

The board of supervisors passed its ridge line protection ordinance in 2010, which established height restrictions for structures on East River Mountain. In 2009, Dominion was partnered with BP Wind Energy North America on the project, but has since continued to move forward on its own.

“It’s a rather sad fact that the ordinance we passed in Bluefield, Va., can be undone by something passed in the Virginia General Assembly,” Harris said.

“We here in Bluefield, Va., are asked to operate under rules that are passed by the Virginia General Assembly. We do that and low and behold, they consider undoing their own regulations that we operate under.”

State Senator Phillip P. Puckett D-Russell, could not bet immediately reached for comment late Wednesday night.

— Contact Bill Archer at barcher@bdtonline.com

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