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Executives meet in the Valley to bring wind energy to Virginia

Currently, there are no high-capacity wind-power projects that exist in Virginia, but that could change. Some people attending the AWEA State Wind Energy Forum hope to bring more opportunities to the commonwealth.

“Number of factors that have hindered development right now. Gas prices are low right now. The regulatory process is a little bit of a barrier,” said Jonathan Miles, the director of the Center for Wind Energy at James Madison University.

Miles said that 40 project sites for wind power have been measured. Compared to the past, advocates have said that’s a step.

Robin Sullenberger, the CEO of the Shenandoah Valley Partnership, shared how one wind project proposed in 2003 in Highland County ran into a lot of barriers, “You get this immediate reaction of the proponents versus the opponents and it fractures the community, it causes all sorts of disruption.”

The wind project hasn’t worked out, but it’s not completely because of location issues.

“Bald Knob, existing road structure in place,” said Sullenberger, “When you live in a small community where everybody knows everyone everything becomes incredibly personal.”

Land use and environmental factors are general concerns.

“Environmental, sensitive habitats that we want to be mindful of,” said Tyson Utt, the director of development for Apex Clean Energy.

Others proposed installing one or two wind turbines in a city. There are currently 69 wind facilities in Virginia, but none that would be considered high capacity.

As companies research sites for wind development, they have to get localities’ approval. Once that happens, the goal shifts to education.

“Counties go out to communities that are being targeted for development and educate and inform,” said Miles.

Some say it’s hard for independent developers to come in because some utility companies have exclusive territories. Companies such as Apex, located in Virginia, have built in other states, while others buy wind energy outside of Virginia.