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Senator drafts energy policy - The state lawmaker says it's an attempt to reach long-term solutions to energy problems.

The chief sponsor, state Sen. Frank Wagner, R-Virginia Beach, describes his draft legislation as a comprehensive blueprint for developing more energy at home -- both traditional sources and futuristic ones -- so Virginia will have reliable supplies for decades to come.

Offering tax refunds to Virginians who buy hybrid cars and energy-saving appliances. Choosing new sites for a nuclear power plant, a wind farm and a liquid natural gas port.

Attempting to mine natural gas deposits off the Virginia coast. Creating a research center at Old Dominion University for frozen methane-gas crystals buried in the bottom of the sea.

Requiring all new state buildings to be environmentally friendly.

All of these ambitious items are included in a draft Virginia Energy Bill, which state lawmakers will consider this year in Richmond amid mounting consumer concerns about high fuel prices and dependence on foreign oil.

The chief sponsor, state Sen. Frank Wagner, R-Virginia Beach, describes his draft legislation as a comprehensive blueprint for developing more energy at home -- both traditional sources and futuristic ones -- so Virginia will have reliable supplies for decades to come.

The bill endorses more oil refining in Virginia, more gas pipelines so blockages seen this year as a result of Hurricane Katrina can be averted, and tougher national fuel-economy standards for new cars and trucks.

"We don't have an energy shortage problem, we have an energy policy problem," said Wagner, a... more [truncated due to possible copyright]  
Offering tax refunds to Virginians who buy hybrid cars and energy-saving appliances. Choosing new sites for a nuclear power plant, a wind farm and a liquid natural gas port.

Attempting to mine natural gas deposits off the Virginia coast. Creating a research center at Old Dominion University for frozen methane-gas crystals buried in the bottom of the sea.

Requiring all new state buildings to be environmentally friendly.

All of these ambitious items are included in a draft Virginia Energy Bill, which state lawmakers will consider this year in Richmond amid mounting consumer concerns about high fuel prices and dependence on foreign oil.

The chief sponsor, state Sen. Frank Wagner, R-Virginia Beach, describes his draft legislation as a comprehensive blueprint for developing more energy at home -- both traditional sources and futuristic ones -- so Virginia will have reliable supplies for decades to come.

The bill endorses more oil refining in Virginia, more gas pipelines so blockages seen this year as a result of Hurricane Katrina can be averted, and tougher national fuel-economy standards for new cars and trucks.

"We don't have an energy shortage problem, we have an energy policy problem," said Wagner, a Naval Academy graduate who runs a shipyard in Newport News. "And government needs to intervene to fix it."

Recognizing the bill's sweeping potential -- it touches subjects as varied as fuel-cell technology, local zoning powers, green architecture, and tax credits for dishwashers, air conditioners and biodiesel trucks -- Wagner joked, "there's something in there for everyone to hate."

He quickly added: "But, really, it's time we stopped being reactionary and started doing some serious planning about these issues."

The bill, which Wagner still is revising and has not formally introduced, is expected to stir considerable opposition when the General Assembly opens this month in the capital, especially from environmental groups and local governments.

A special subcommittee of the Virginia Commission on Coal and Energy has been studying the proposal since October, and its chairman, state Sen. John Watkins, R-Chesterfield County, is expected to make a final report Jan. 17 on its prospects.

Environmentalists are primarily concerned that energy companies and utilities would be given too much latitude without enough oversight, and that the bill only perpetuates America's thirst for fossil fuels.

"There's some good things in the bill, and some really bad things, too," said Lisa Guthrie, executive director of the Virginia League of Conservation Voters. "It's mostly about accessing more oil and gas, and not enough about alternative energy and conservation."

Environmental groups, instead, are backing a bill that would set year-by-year benchmarks in which power companies would slowly have to use more and more renewable energies, such as solar, wind and thermal sources, until they account for 20 percent of energy production by 2015.

The stepped concept, called renewable portfolio standards, has been adopted by more than a dozen other states, including Maryland and Pennsylvania. Wagner, however, called the approach "putting the cart before the horse," and said he would oppose its adoption or inclusion in his bill.

City and county officials from across the state have expressed dismay at one provision in Wagner's bill that they say would effectively override local powers for blocking or altering a major energy project in their jurisdictions.

As proposed, the State Corporation Commission would compile a list of "optimal" sites for at least one new nuclear plant, one wind farm and one liquefied natural gas terminal. In each case, local zoning regulations and land-use plans in affected municipalities could be declared "void and unenforceable," according to the latest draft of Wagner's legislation.

Wagner said he is open to softening this clause and wants local officials to be involved in the site-selection process, but reiterated a desire to avoid "not-in-my-back-yard" obstacles to big energy-generating projects.

He mentioned how Virginia Natural Gas has been rebuffed several times in trying to develop a liquefied natural gas terminal because of local opposition, and how a proposed wind farm in Highland County in Western Virginia has been challenged because of local protests about potential effects on migratory birds and mountain aesthetics.

Jose Simon, director of public affairs for Virginia Natural Gas, said his company has talked with Wagner extensively about the bill and fully supports it. Dan Genest, a spokesman for Dominion Virginia Power, said the state's biggest electric utility also likes what it sees so far.

"We need something to encourage industry," said Simon, based in Norfolk. "And Frank's raising the awareness that we need a comprehensive energy policy that's specific to Virginia's needs."

Wagner is no stranger to energy debates. He sponsored a bill last year that called on state lobbyists to urge Congress to renew exploration and mining of natural gas deposits off the Virginia coast. A federal ban on offshore oil and gas drilling is in effect until 2012.

Gov. Mark Warner eventually vetoed the state exploration bill, after protests from environmentalists and the mayor of Virginia Beach, who both feared pollution and damage to coastal tourism.

A study of the offshore gas issue was commissioned instead but has not been completed. The state Department of Mines, Minerals and Energy has said that preliminary results show "great potential" for natural gas, and possibly oil, deposits in coastal regions more than three miles offshore. Wagner also has received sizable campaign contributions from energy companies and utilities, according to records compiled by the Virginia Public Access Project.

In the latest campaign reports, through June 2005 Wagner had raised $102,051 and spent about two-thirds of that. Of total donations, he received $3,600 from natural gas companies, $3,250 from electric utilities and $2,250 from oil companies and refineries, records show.

Source: http://www.roanoke.com/news...

JAN 9 2006
https://www.windaction.org/posts/927-senator-drafts-energy-policy-the-state-lawmaker-says-it-s-an-attempt-to-reach-long-term-solutions-to-energy-problems
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