A wind energy company has its eye on Pulaski County as a possible wind turbine facility, a massive undertaking which, if suitable, could have windmills spinning in the county in the next couple of years.
Apex Clean Energy, which is also pursuing a wind turbine project in Botetourt County, announced similar plans for Pulaski County earlier this week. At this point, both projects are in their early development stages.
Dahvi Wilson, the spokeswoman for the Charlottesville-based company, says the possibility of wind turbines being constructed in Pulaski County would not be directly dependent on the project in Botetourt.
“These are two distinct projects that will proceed through the development process independently,” she says.
Apex refers to the Pulaski County project as Pinewood Wind, which is still in its gestational stage. The company is currently performing site studies and collecting data for the project’s evaluation.
According to Wilson, county, state and federal studies and permitting can take two to three years.
“We hope to be in position to build one or both projects in 2017 or 2018,” Wilson said Wednesday.
The Pinewood Wind project is targeting a location in southern Pulaski County, falling on a 17,000-acre Boys Scout reservation about seven miles southeast of town. County officials have been notified by Apex about their intentions to study the feasibility of a wind energy project in conjunction with the Boy Scouts.
According to Wilson, the Boy Scouts’ Roanoke-based Blue Ridge Mountain Council has been open to the project and expressed a positive attitude. She says they hope to maintain those constructive relationships as the project develops.
If all goes according to plan, Pinewood Wind would generate up to 180 megawatts of clean, homegrown energy. Pulaski County was chosen because local wind data confirms that the area under consideration is ideal for the project’s size, which would produce enough safe, pollution-free energy to power up to 40,000 Virginia homes annually.
Apex is reaching out to local landowners, community leaders and various stakeholders on the project, and encourages input during the planning process, Wilson says.
As of now, it’s too soon to tell the exact details of the project as the planning stage is in effect. The location, size and number of the turbines that would be constructed in the county have yet to be determined, although that information will be decided as the project progresses.
According to Pulaski County Zoning Administrator Danny Wilson, there isn’t much that can be done with the project on the county’s side, as it has just recently had initial conversation with Apex.
“We’re still very early in the process for that,” Danny Wilson says. “From what I understand, [Apex] is going through their departmental review process, and it’s pretty lengthy, and once they finish that, they’ll come in for permitting through the county.
“Normally, what they would do is use temporary meteorological towers to study wind speed, and they do that for about two years,” he explains. “That will determine where the best wind is for those towers, and how much wind there is to see if it’s profitable. Once they have that data, they’ll go back and design the towers.”
Wind energy facilities require a special use permit in Pulaski County, which goes through the county’s planning commission and then Board of Supervisors to review the site plan. Pulaski enacted a zoning ordinance regulating wind energy projects in 2010 for what may have been the first ordinance of its kind in Virginia.
The ordinance enforces certain rules for wind farms, such as the fact that the noise level cannot exceed 55 decibels. There is no restriction on the height of the turbines, however, the developer is required to demonstrate the planned height of the turbines.
The zoning administrator says Pinewood Wind does not currently seem to conflict with the county’s zoning ordinance. Although nothing is certain in the project’s earliest phases, Dahvi Wilson says Apex believes the project is worth pursuing under the current ordinance.
As with everything else, the project will depend on the test phases to determine wind suitability. Until then, any positive or negative ramifications to the county are unknown.
“It might be safe to say that we don’t know just yet if a project of this nature would have proponents and opponents,” says assistant county administrator Anthony Akers.
While the study is being conducted, there are no plans in the near future to include the wind energy project on the agendas for any upcoming county meetings. Dahvi Wilson says that as the study progresses, though, Apex will work closely with Pulaski County on planning and permitting for Pinewood Wind, and will offer additional opportunities for the public to provide input throughout the process.
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