Energy, Government, State Government, West Virginia Legislature

House Energy hearing on bill to expand PSC power over local ordinances draws just one speaker

MORGANTOWN — A Monday morning House public hearing on a bill to expand the powers of the Public Service Commission drew only one speaker.

Maria Russo spoke for the West Virginia Environmental Council to oppose the bill.

HB 3446 is 17 pages long but the actual legislation is just a single, long sentence.

It says that if the citing certificate for installation, construction or use of a wholesale electric power plant is precluded by a city or county or local governing board ordinance, resolution or order, the project may proceed anyway under PSC authority.

Russo said the bill effectively preempts local control.

She cited a related code section that says when the PSC considers a citing certificate it must appraise and balance the interests of the public, the general interests of the state and local economy, and the interests of the applicant. Any considerations of public funding and tax breaks must not offend the public interest. And the construction or material modification of the facility must result in a substantial positive impact on the local economy and local employment.

Russo said the bill would allow the PSC to override local zoning or land-use restrictions regarding noise and aesthetic impacts, causing potential damage and lowering property values.

“This legislation has the potential to burden the Public Service Commission with the need to investigate local conditions and assume the duties of local planning agencies” that have a more intimate understanding of the conditions, she said.

A PSC override takes away protections in residential areas, she added, “and has the power to change the landscapes of communities.”

The House Energy and Manufacturing Committee held the hearing and has the bill, but has not acted on it yet. Wednesday is Crossover Day, when all bills have to pass from their house of origin in order to remain active, so if the committee moves the bill, the full House would have to suspend its three-day reading rule to send it to the Senate.

TWEET David Beard @dbeardtdp