A wind energy company has taken the first formal step toward its plan to build turbines on a Botetourt County mountain ridge.
Apex Clean Energy applied this week for a building permit to put up three temporary towers on North Mountain that will be used to gather data on wind speed and other information, according to Botetourt County spokesman Cody Sexton.
Data from the towers are needed before the Charlottesville company can begin construction on a project that would convert wind to electricity with up to 25 giant windmills on the ridgeline, about 5 miles northeast of Eagle Rock, an Apex representative said.
Details on the exact size and location of the test towers were not available Wednesday.
But Apex’s application for their construction indicates the company is still interested in a project it has dubbed Rocky Forge – despite a lawsuit filed last week that seeks to invalidate a recently passed ordinance that sets rules for industrial wind power in the county.
“We have seen it,” Apex spokesman Kevin Chandler said of the lawsuit.
“The Botetourt County ordinance lays out a strict set of guidelines for wind energy projects, and we intend to continue developing the Rocky Forge Wind project according to its requirements,” Chandler wrote in an email.
Although Apex has already gathered some data on wind strength atop North Mountain, “in order to get a complete and up-to-date picture of the wind resource, we need to install two to three temporary met towers prior to project construction,” he wrote.
Up until this week, discussions between Apex and county officials had been informal. The application for a building permit is the first official step in a process that could eventually entail the company seeking a special exception permit that would allow construction of its wind farm.
Before that can happen, the company must construct its test towers under the rules set by the ordinance: They can be no higher than 199 feet, and remain in operation for no more than 24 months. The towers must also abide by limits on how close they may stand to adjoining properties.
Assuming that Apex seeks approval for permanent wind turbines, the ordinance will limit their height at 550 feet, taller than the highest building in downtown Roanoke.
In a lawsuit filed last Thursday in Botetourt County Circuit Court, eight county residents said the ordinance fails to protect them and other members of the public from dangers posed by wind turbines. Among their concerns: low-frequency noise from the turbines and shadow flicker that can cause health problems, ice being thrown from the spinning blades during the winter and the risk of the turbines collapsing or catching on fire.
The lawsuit also claims the county failed to take into account the impact on birds and bats, which have been killed after flying into the spinning blades at other wind farm projects.
County Attorney Michael Lockaby called the lawsuit’s assertions “completely false.” He said the ordinance remains in effect and will be vigorously defended in court.
Apex officials have said they hope to have the Rocky Forge project in operation by 2017 or 2018, producing enough electricity to power about 20,000 homes.
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