DALEVILLE – Botetourt County officials began to test the winds Tuesday night for an ordinance that would regulate large turbines that might someday convert the wind from a mountain ridge into electricity.
At a joint meeting, members of the board of supervisors and the planning commission reviewed a set of recommendations from county staff on how the ordinance might be worded.
Although the details remain in flux, the process is being watched closely by Apex Clean Energy, a Charlottesville-based wind energy company that is interested in building up to 25 wind turbines on North Mountain, about 5 miles northeast of Eagle Rock.
The area is sparsely populated – unlike Poor Mountain in Roanoke County, where a proposed turbine project was met by fierce opposition from residents five years ago – and there were no clear signs of public discord at Tuesday’s meeting.
As a starting point for discussion, county staff suggested that any ordinance that governs utility-scale turbines restrict their height to 500 feet from the base of the steel towers to the highest tip of their blades – that’s 136 feet taller than the Wells Fargo building in downtown Roanoke.
Noise generated from the turbines, which can emit a humming sound similar to that of a giant dishwasher, could be no louder than 60 decibels when heard from the nearest property line, the staff proposal suggested.
County administrator Kathleen Guzi emphasized that those and other parameters might change. “None of us is coming to the table tonight thinking we have all the answers,” she said.
The board of supervisors is expected to take action on the ordinance after a public hearing in May. Other more informal public forums could be held earlier.
One of the board’s five members was ready to say Tuesday that he hopes the county will not put up too many obstacles for wind energy companies.
“I would like to see us make it as easy as possible,” Supervisor Billy Martin said.
In addition to advancing the green energy movement, wind turbine projects can provide substantial tax revenue and other economic benefits to the areas where they operate.
Apex’s director of development for the mid-Atlantic region, Tyson Utt, attended the meeting but did not make a public presentation. Afterward, he said the proposed rules appear compatible with the industry norm and what the company has in mind for Botetourt County.
If its plans go forward, Utt said Apex has made arrangements to lease property from a private landowner on which to build the turbines. When tied into nearby utility lines, the turbines would generate 80 megawatts – enough to power 20,000 homes – that would be fed into Virginia’s electrical grid.
A second wind farm in Pulaski County is also under consideration. Apex officials say they hope to begin construction on one or both of the projects in 2017 or 2018.
Virginia currently has no commercial wind farms.
A proposal by a Chicago-based company to build up to 18 turbines on Poor Mountain appears to be on hold, and other projects that have been considered in Southwest Virginia have not advanced beyond the planning stage. Plans for an offshore wind energy project on the other side of the state are progressing.
So it’s possible that Apex could have the first ridgeline turbines spinning in Virginia, according to Ken Jurman, renewable energy program manager at the Department of Mines, Minerals and Energy.
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