FLOYD – At 25 years old, Andrew Rudersdorf is decades younger than many of the Floyd County landowners whose cooperation he needs.
But the wind energy executive speaks confidently about his company’s ability to sell county officials on the benefits of wind farming.
Rudersdorf introduced himself during the open-comment period at last week’s meeting of the county board of supervisors. He is the on-the-ground representative in Floyd County for Nordex USA Inc., a German company that has proposed a $100 million, 30- to 50-megawatt wind farm atop Wills Ridge by 2015. It’s a prominent spot 4 miles northwest of Floyd, and the project is one of several large wind projects being considered in the Roanoke and New River valleys.
“It’s a very exciting time for this industry, and we’re very, very excited to be here and partnering with the county of Floyd and the state of Virginia to help renewable energy take its place here,” Rudersdorf told the supervisors.
That’s partnering in an informal sense only, at this point. Nordex, which has more than two dozen projects in development but none in operation, has not filed a plan or application with Floyd County. Nor has it enlisted the county as a partner.
Last week was the first time the company confirmed its plans at a public meeting.
Nordex’s vision is one of several wind-farm proposals taking shape in the region. Another is pegged for Poor Mountain in Roanoke County, where the board of supervisors adopted a wind energy ordinance with detailed parameters last week. Another project is being considered in Pulaski County near Claytor Lake. And other companies are prospecting for areas where wind farms could be placed.
Rudersdorf’s title is project developer, but where you’d expect to see a little white or gray hair, there are the brown locks of youth. He is a 2008 graduate of Creighton University in his home state of Nebraska, has a degree in meteorology and once sought work as a TV weatherman.
But instead, he entered the growing field of wind energy, working first for Houston-based Horizon Wind Energy in the Southwestern United States and moving over to Nordex in December.
Though he has been contacting property owners for several months, Rudersdorf’s appearance at the meeting last week was the first time he spoke in public.
His dress – a hooded sweatshirt, blue jeans and leather boots – gave no hint that he hails from the 15th floor of a skyscraper in downtown Chicago.
Floyd County resident Sandra Howell, who favors wind energy, was pleasantly surprised by his low-key attire.
“I thought he would show up with a business suit on and a giant briefcase full of pamphlets,” she said.
David Ingram, chairman of the Floyd County board, said he hasn’t formed an opinion of wind energy or studied the regulatory process. Supervisors could hear their attorney’s legal advice as soon as next month on the distinctive challenge that wind energy poses to Floyd County, which has no zoning regulations.
Supervisor William Gardner has given the wind energy issue some thought and generally favors wind energy, he said.
However, “we need to have some restrictions on where windmills are placed” as well as on how tall they are and how far they stand from property lines and homes, he said.
But because Floyd County doesn’t have a zoning ordinance, it is not clear how supervisors will exert control. The county essentially leaves land-use decisions to property owners themselves. Supervisors asked their attorney to tell them what authority they have to regulate wind energy production and the height of structures placed on ridge tops.
At a minimum, the company will have to petition the state Department of Environmental Quality and the State Corporation Commission for approval and may have to consult federal wildlife officials and aviation authorities, said Jonathan Miles, who follows wind energy at James Madison University. Virginia does not yet have an operating wind farm.
County residents who have spoken out on windy energy on local ridges fall generally into two camps – those who favor windmills for new employment, tax revenue and other economic benefits and because it is green energy, and those who see risk to water resources, peace and quiet, and rural livability. Three companies are currently prospecting for wind-farm sites in Floyd County.
Interviewed at his room at Hotel Floyd, Rudersdorf used a meeting he requested with The Roanoke Times to say that Nordex is a turbine manufacturing company that is expanding into wind-farm development. It opened a turbine factory last year in Arkansas and has 25 of its own wind-farm projects in various stages of development. Construction on one or two of them could begin next year, company officials said.
Rudersdorf cautioned that the Floyd County project being advanced by Nordex is in the early stages, with a year of wind-speed tests not yet begun.
It would consist of 15 to 20 utility-scale wind mills 400 to 500 feet tall. They would be expected to generate electricity for 20 to 25 years. The company pledges there will be no detriment to water resources and that, when it reaches the end of its life, the wind farm would be removed and the land restored.
Rudersdorf told supervisors that if the project comes to fruition, Floyd County will get 100 to 150 temporary construction jobs, three to six permanent jobs and significant tax revenue to bolster the $30 million county budget, plus payments to landowners.
Rudersdorf and a project development manager in Chicago declined to estimate the tax revenue amount. They wouldn’t say how many landowner signatures they have on ground leases. What landowners will get paid was not available, either.
But Rudersdorf hinted that he may host a community meeting soon and give the public a more detailed vision.
“This is very new to the United States and even more new to Virginia. What we want to do is educate the community and make sure they know the facts,” he said.