Highland wind farm bill blown out of the Senate
A bill which would have eased environmental restrictions for a controversial wind farm slated for construction in Highland County has stalled in committee. As previously reported in the Hook, Senate Bill 324, introduced by State Senator Frank Wagner (R-Virginia Beach), would have exempted all electric facilities that generate and distribute renewable energy with a capacity of no more than 50 megawatts.
The bill would have affected the proposed wind farm planned for the mountainous rural area 70 miles northwest of Charlottesville in Highland County. If completed, the project would be the state's first utility-scale wind generation facility. Highland New Wind LLC, the company planning the development, has faced harsh criticism from area residents and environmental experts as well as numerous legal and logistical challenges.
Rick Webb, a senior scientist at UVA and a nationally recognized wind energy expert, believed that passage of the bill was crucial to the Highland County wind farm's success. He strongly opposed the bill because, as he explained, it would have opened the door "for a proliferation of unregulated 49-megawatt wind projects in western Virginia and around the Chesapeake Bay."
Highland Wind LLC, however, is unaffected by the bill's failure to move forward in the Senate, according to company spokesperson Frank Maisano. He says that the project "will be finished by the end of the year," and that the bill would never have affected the wind farm's future in the first place.