A cool wind blows in Richmond

Story by Chris Graham

The State Corporation Commission has spoken on the proposed Highland New Wind case.
A state legislator would like the SCC to keep its nose out of these types of cases in the future.
“What this has the effect of doing is eliminating their review of projects such as the one that they just reviewed in Highland County,” said Rick Webb, a senior scientist with the University of Virginia Department of Environmental Sciences and a contributor to vawind.org, a website that tracks developments involving proposals for wind farms like the Highland New Wind development that did end up receiving SCC approval, albeit with a number of costly conditions.

It is those conditions – which would add tremendously to the multimillion-dollar wind-farm development, according to principals in the project – that appears to have the interest of Virginia Beach Sen. Frank Wagner, whose SB 324 would exempt from any SCC oversight or approval all electric generating facilities fueled by renewable resources with a rated capacity of 50 megawatts or less.The impact that the legislation could have on the Highland project is unclear. It could give the developers another opportunity to get their project going without the conditions mandating that significant environmental reviews be done as per the SCC order.“So after a long fight involving lots of money, lots of experts, lots of organizations involved, including the Nature Conservancy, and lots of commentary and input from various state environmental agencies, the permit was issued. But now Sen. Frank Wagner, who actually testified on behalf of the project, and in my opinion was fairly dismissive of the concerns about wildlife and the general concerns of the opponents, has done sort of a legislative end-run around the SCC, or he is attempting to do so,” Webb said in an interview for today’s “Augusta Free Press Show.”The bigger picture is the impact that could be felt statewide on energy-development projects big and small.

“It not only applies to wind projects – it applies to renewable-energy projects of up to 50 megawatts of any type. That would include, for example, waste incineration. Municipal waste has been defined as a renewable resource – so we could actually be burning trash without any State Corporation Commission oversight,” Webb said. 


“We really don’t have much oversight at this point, even. The State Corporation Commission has responsibility, but it doesn’t really have a set of defined criteria. And the reason that the Highland project got such an effective review is because lots of money was spent on attorneys and expert witnesses. In most cases, that may not happen. So I believe that this is going entirely in the wrong direction. What we need is more state-level oversight, not less,” Webb said.

Chris Graham is the executive editor of The Augusta Free Press.

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