NELSON COUNTY, Va. (NEWSPLEX) — A power utility bill is moving forward in the Virginia General Assembly that decides how utility companies can build transmission lines.
HB 1766 got overwhelming support in the House Tuesday, passing with a 67-30 vote.
The bill amends part of the Utility Facilities Act in Virginia.
Under the bill, the only approval a power utility would need to get in order to build a transmission line would be from the State Corporation Commission, or SCC, and not a locality.
“Giant corporations are undermining our Constitution,” said Marilyn Shifflett, a concerned citizen of Nelson County.
She is one of several Nelson County landowners who feels like the new bill puts her property rights at risk of being run over.
“It would appear from this amendment that local boards and commission bill be bypassed entirely,” Shifflett explained.
Appalachian Power is the utility company behind the bill introduced by Republican Delegate Greg Habeeb from Salem, Virginia.
On the phone, Appalachian Power said it is not often the utility needs to get formal approval from localities in order to build transmission lines.The utility added that it will continue to work with landowners to ensure “minimal property owners are affected” by projects.
But in a county where residents are already fighting with another power utility over a natural gas pipeline, residents are worried about future transmission line projects.
“I really don’t want to see this happen to other people,” said Heidi Cochran, a concerned citizen of Nelson County.
She says with little input from localities, utilities can convince the SCC to approve projects anywhere.
“It could be near a home, it could be near a school, it could be near any location and we would not have the local rights to be able to implement any ways of governing them,” said Cochran.
For its part, Appalachian Power says that is not a fair assessment of the situation.
A representative from the utility explained on the phone, “We’re not building lines just because we want to build lines.”
The power utility also stressed that prior to SCC approval of a project, a hearing is held to assess the local impact.
Appalachian Power says it plans to continue adhering to the SCC hearings.
Over the weekend, Republican Denver Riggleman, one of several people running for Governor in Virginia, responded to the bill.
“The bottom line is that with this legislation Dominion can put a mega-power line through your county, and your elected local leaders will be able to do nothing to stop it,” Riggleman said.
Dominion Virginia Power declined to comment on the bill, saying it does not work specifically with the power utility lines addressed in the legislation.
The power utility also said the bill originated in southwest Virginia with Appalachian Power and Habeeb.
In Tuesday’s vote, several local delegates voted in favor of the bill including Republican Delegate Rob Bell and Democrat Delegate David Toscano.