State reps share views of continued solar bills

Published 3:01 pm Friday, February 16, 2024

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Virginia Del. Otto Wachsmann and state Sen. Emily M. Jordan recently shared their opposition to a pair of bills — now continued to 2025 — in the Virginia legislature that propose allowing the state to overrule county-level rejections of new solar projects.

House Bill 636 would create an approval process for projects capable of generating 50 or more megawatts, which would be overseen by the State Corporation Commission rather than local governing bodies. Should a project meet the SCC’s to-be-determined criteria but be denied approval by its host locality, the project’s developer would be authorized under the legislation to appeal the local vote to the SCC.

According to the House bill’s sponsor, Del. Richard “Rip” Sullivan, D-Fairfax, the bill aims to achieve benchmarks the General Assembly established four years ago with the passage of the Virginia Clean Economy Act, which mandates Dominion Energy transition to 100% carbon-free energy sources by 2045. State Sen. Creigh Deeds, D-Charlottesville, is sponsoring Senate Bill 567, the Senate version of Sullivan’s bill.

The 2020 Virginia Clean Economy Act requires that at least 16,100 megawatts — or just under two-thirds of the state’s electricity — come from solar or offshore wind farms by the end of 2035.

“We need to find some way to implement this statewide policy and goal that we’ve set for ourselves,” Sullivan told the Windsor Weekly in a Jan. 16 phone interview.

Jordan represents Senate District 17, which includes, but is not limited to, all of Isle of Wight County, and she did not mince words in a statement released to the Windsor Weekly.

“In regards to HB 636 and SB 567, I am in firm opposition to any legislation that would circumvent local governments from deciding the best use of their land,” she said. “Should this bill come before me on the floor of the Virginia Senate, I will be voting against this piece of legislation.”

Virginia’s Legislative Information System noted that SB 567 has been continued to 2025 by a 15-0 vote in the Commerce and Labor Committee, which means it has been removed from consideration for 2024.

Virginia LIS has also confirmed that HB 636 has been continued to 2025 in the Labor and Commerce Committee by voice vote.

Wachsmann represents House District 83, which includes, but is not limited to, part of Isle of Wight County. He also was clear on where he stood with regard to HB 636.

“That one, giving it up to the SCC, I do not support that at all,” he said. “It needs to be people that know the people that live there that make these local decisions and not a group of people that are not from the area.”

Del. Nadarius E. Clark represents House District 84, which includes, but is not limited to, part of Isle of Wight County. He had not responded by press time to requests from the Windsor Weekly for his views on HB 636, SB 567 and solar in general.

Wachsmann reached out to the Windsor Weekly by phone and shared some of his overall thoughts on solar.

“We’ve got a lot of constituents that are really concerned about solar,” he said. “Personally, I’m not against solar, I’m not for solar, but I do think there’s a right and a wrong place for solar, and I think it’s the people at the local level, i.e. the county’s Board of Supervisors, I think that’s the appropriate place for them to be making those decisions.

“We have a lot of urban areas that need a lot of power,” he continued. “We have a lot of rural areas that have land for these solar facilities that don’t necessarily use as much power as the urban areas. And my concern is that a lot more of our rural farmland and timberland is being used for solar than the average localities.”

He acknowledged that a balance should be kept in mind when considering solar-related decisions in some instances.

“(If) somebody owns a property, it’s a balance between landowner rights and what other people around the area want to do with it, which is sort of the reason I thought we came up with the zoning commissions,” he said.