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Wind energy projects planned for Botetourt, Pulaski counties

A wind energy company that wants to build a turbine project in Botetourt County is also pursuing similar plans in Pulaski County.

Both projects are in the early stages of development, a spokeswoman for Charlottesville-based Apex Clean Energy said Monday.

“We hope to be in a position to build one or both projects in 2017 or 2018,” Dahvi Wilson wrote in an email.

Apex officials are expected to be on hand Tuesday in Botetourt County, where members of the board of supervisors and the planning commission will begin discussing an ordinance to regulate utility-scale turbines, which convert wind to electricity through metal windmills as tall as 500 feet that sit along ridgelines.

Although the specific plans could change, Apex is envisioning up to 25 turbines on private land about 5 miles northeast of Eagle Rock. The slow-spinning turbines would tap into nearby utility lines, providing enough electricity to power 20,000 homes.

In Pulaski County, the company is studying a project twice as large that would be located about 7 miles southeast of the town of Pulaski, Wilson said. Most of the site is on land owned by the Boy Scouts, which has a 17,000-acre reservation in the area.

The Boy Scouts’ Roanoke-based Blue Ridge Mountains Council has been receptive to the idea, leasing land to a different wind energy company five years ago so it could build two test towers to gather information about wind strength in the area.

Iberdrola Renewables has since decided not to develop the property, citing uncertainties with federal tax incentives for wind energy projects.

Apex has not erected its own test towers or approached the Boy Scouts with a specific plan. “They’re still investigating what potential there might be,” Scout executive Dan Johnson said.

But Apex has notified officials in Pulaski County of its plans and “is reaching out to local landowners, community leaders and various stakeholders on the project and welcomes input into the planning process,” Wilson’s email read.

Unlike Botetourt County, Pulaski has an ordinance that imposes some restrictions on utility-scale turbines.

The zoning does not restrict the height of the towers, requiring only that a developer demonstrate the planned height is necessary, according to a summary from the Center for Wind Energy at James Madison University. Noise coming from the turbines cannot exceed 55 decibels when heard from adjacent property lines.

Botetourt County officials hope to have an ordinance on the books by this spring. Tuesday’s work session between the board of supervisors and planning commission could provide the first hints at how receptive the county will be to wind energy.

Although there are no commercial wind farms in Virginia, the industry is growing nationally as part of a push for renewable energy sources such as wind and solar. Wind provided 4 percent of the country’s electricity in 2013, and is on track to generate 20 percent by 2030, according to the American Wind Energy Association.

Several wind energy companies have proposed or considered building turbines in the Roanoke region, but to date none of the projects has gotten off the ground.

Founded in 2009, Apex is an independent company that specializes in developing wind and solar energy. In many cases, it sells the turbine or solar panel projects it builds to other companies or utilities that take responsibility for their operations.

In the coming year, the company will bring five new wind energy facilities online, according to its website. It recently sold two projects in Oklahoma.

“We just see it as a winning technology,” Wilson said. “It’s improving all the time and it’s getting cheaper.”