If wind turbines are built atop a Botetourt County ridge line, they will have to follow a set of rules now on the books.
County supervisors unanimously approved an ordinance Tuesday night that will regulate the power-producing windmills, placing limits on how high they can stand and how much noise they can make.
Since learning in February of a Charlottesville wind energy company’s interest in building as many as 25 turbines on North Mountain, about five miles northeast of Eagle Rock, Botetourt officials have been working on the new chapter to the county’s zoning requirements.
Tuesday’s vote followed a public hearing in which 13 speakers enthusiastically supported the idea of allowing wind energy in the county. Six were staunchly opposed. No one waffled.
“I really appreciate the passion on both sides,” said Supervisor Jack Leffel, whose Fincastle district includes North Mountain.
While many of the comments were inspired by Apex Clean Energy’s plans – which could lead to the first commercial wind farm in Virginia – Leffel pointed out that the company has filed no official application.
Before that happens, he said, the county needs to draft an ordinance on wind turbines that will allow it to weigh the merits of an application from Apex or any other company.
“I think we’ve done that,” Leffel said in making a motion to approve the ordinance.
Under the rules, the turbines could stand no taller than 550 feet – higher than the tallest building in downtown Roanoke. Sounds produced by their spinning blades could be no louder than 60 decibels when measured from the nearest adjoining property line.
Setback requirements would make the turbines stand at least 110 percent of their height from the nearest adjoining property line and 150 percent of their height from the nearest occupied building.
In drafting the ordinance, county officials sought to both address concerns about appearance and noise and accommodate a new industry that could bring significant revenue to the county.
Tuesday’s meeting, which drew about 60 people, was the largest show of public reaction so far.
Jean Claunch handed the supervisors a photograph of the mountain view from her home in Eagle Rock before telling them how that vista would be spoiled by spinning metal turbines. For all the talk about clean energy, she said, wind power represents just a drop in the bucket when it comes to reducing carbon emissions.
“Are we going to say we are saving the planet as we deface our own back yard?” Claunch said.
Michael Jamison of Clifton Forge said the spot where Apex wants to build its turbines would mar the views from Alleghany and Rockbridge counties. “The top of North Mountain will look like an amusement park,” he said.
Other speakers shared the view of James Harshfield, who said he considers the structures beautiful. “Every time I see a wind turbine I think of a smoke stack that is not there,” he said.
“It’s our only realistic long-term future,” Dan Crawford of the Roanoke-area Sierra Club, said.
An Apex official said the company continues to explore plans for what it calls the Rocky Forge wind farm.
“Establishing a fair and balanced ordinance is an important step that will lay the foundation for responsible wind development in the county,” Tyson Utt, Apex’s director of Mid-Atlantic development, wrote in an email.
“We are very excited about the potential for wind energy in Botetourt County. Rocky Forge wind is an opportunity to generate enough electricity for up to 20,000 Virginia homes while providing a 30-year revenue stream for county schools and government services, and we look forward to working with Botetourt County on developing a wind energy project that will benefit the county for decades to come.”
After Tuesday’s meeting, Utt said it is too soon to say when Apex might seek a permit under the new ordinance. If the county were to approve the project, the company still would have to obtain clearance from the Federal Aviation Administration and the Virginia Department of Environmental Quality.
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