Thursday, January 23, 2014

A Bipartisan Win for Wind Energy in Virginia

DSC_8731.jpgVirginia's insane General Assembly schedule just produced an absurdly heart-warming outcome: Two smart Republicans blocked a bill that would've put up an unnecessary new hurdle for wind energy.

When it comes to clean wind power, Virginia remains a black hole. Republican State Sen. Tom Garrett thinks the problem is that it's not being regulated heavily enough:
A proposal by Sen. Tom Garrett, R-Louisa, to protect birds and bats from wind turbines passed a committee vote Thursday and was referred to the full Senate.

Garrett said some advocates for wind-generated electricity had criticized the bill.

“I want to make this abundantly clear — and I’ll speak really slowly — this bill is in no way, shape or form designed to be an anti-wind bill,” he said. “We will, I hope, generate a greater and greater percentage of our power in the coming years via renewable energy resources whether it be solar, etc. That doesn’t mean we should do so irresponsibly.”
Wind energy is already heavily regulated by a range of officials and agencies charged with making sure its siting is as friendly to communities and wildlife as possible. Is it more likely Sen. Garrett was standing up for wildlife, or using anti-wind talking points pushed by polluter front groups to try to kill wind before it even gets off the ground?

Also, I have three reallys:
  • Really, Virginia is now solely concerned with how energy impacts wildlife? Virginia has already lost 156,000 acres on 67 mountains to mountaintop removal coal mining, but now that people want to build wind turbines to compete with coal energy, suddenly protecting birds and bats is the top priority? Really?
  • Really, Sen. Garrett's commitment to advancing our energy future? Really? The same Sen. Garrett who last year sponsored a bill to put onerous new regulations on energy-saving smart meters? Really?
  • Really, Sen. Garrett is completely dedicated to the health & well being of Virginia's wildlife? Really? His only other wildlife-related bill is to allow the hunting of coyotes on Sunday.
And last year the General Assembly passed and Gov. Bob McDonnell (R-Federal Court) signed a bill that Sen. Garrett introduced to spend taxpayer dollars promoting nuclear power. Remember this when Republicans try to tell you they're pro-business or anti-regulation. In reality, they're pro-their preferred industries.

The bill actually passed out of committee with the support of some of the most progressive Democrats in the Virginia Senate. I'm hoping they didn't fully understand it - that they just saw a bill that claimed to be good for wildlife and voted yes. Virginia's horribly dysfunctional General Assembly session is just 6 weeks long, requiring legislators to file, consider and vote on bills in less than a month. Again: Insane.

But fortunately it was saved on the Senate floor by two Republicans who know wind power means jobs in their district:
Sens. Frank Wagner and Tom Cosgrove, both Republicans from Virginia Beach, opposed the bill on the Senate floor.

Wagner said a wind-turbine park off the Virginia coast is awaiting a decision by federal agencies, bird-flight patterns already were considered, and adding new regulations would harm the project.
Here's hoping yesterday's vote is one of many that bring together clean energy jobs-loving Republicans with climate change-fighting Democrats.
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