Jerry Fraley of Eagle Rock is the north Botetourt landowner whose mountain APEX Energy is considering developing for a windmill farm.
He has owned some part of the property he said, “for 25 to 30 years,” in what has accumulated into a 10,000-acre tract of mostly mountain forests with some meadows interspersed. He has been trying for over a decade to find something to make the mountain work for him in order to preserve it for the future and his family and those to come.
Tyson Utt of APEX told a gathering on the mountain on Wednesday, Sept. 16, that “we are still engineering the project. We have a great deal to do yet, including the studies not only for wind but by environmental, wildlife, forestry agencies, site selection for turbines and other concerns.”
Nestle Waters, General Shale, AEP and BP Energy have previously looked at the property for potential business sites in the past 10 years.
“I have been trying to find a way to keep this property for the future and certainly want it to go in one piece into posterity,” Fraley said.
He has looked at conservation easements and is talking with several agencies.
“Windmills are not affected by conservation easements,” he said. “For years, I have had numerous types of conservation on this property.” The latest addition is trying to re-introduce quail on the mountain.
Fraley said of APEX and the project, “APEX is a really good company, a Virginia company out of Charlottesville, and they are the fastest-growing wind energy company in the United States.”
Fraley is a native of far Southwest Virginia and has been in the coal business his entire working life.
“Developing energy made America what it is,” he said. “Wind power is part of the development of the future energy needs of our country. ”
Thirty-nine other states have wind energy sites. If APEX’s Rocky Forge project goes through on the Fraley property, it will be the first wind energy site in the commonwealth of Virginia.
“A lot of people have enjoyed this mountain,” Fraley said. Indeed, during a ride up the mountain with Fraley and Sherry Crumley of Buchanan, who is a longtime friend, the talk was mostly of hunting trips, forestry management and fields with summer grasses. Others gathered for the trip up to the meteorological, or MET, tower included several reporters, local resident Ed Van Ness and Jim Kelly, a local business owner, Mark McClean of Cool Cities, Dan Crawford of the Sierra Club, APEX’s Utt, Kevin Chandler and Charlie Johnson.
“We should tap wind energy,” said Crawford of the Sierra Club, who spoke in favor of the project at a recent public hearing. “This project is very likely to happen. Virginia needs wind energy, and we need it to happen here in the Appalachians.”
APEX’s Utt described the towers’ wind measurement to the group gathered on the mountain.
“The MET towers are 197 feet tall,” he said. “Anemometers measure wind speed at several different levels. The Sodar unit sends sonar waves into the air molecules high above and receives data.”
APEX also uses data from nearby VDOT and airport wind measurements.
“We can extrapolate as much as 30 years of data from the local weather data records,” said Utt.
Several years ago, when Fraley had negotiated with BP Energy, the first MET tower was placed without an appropriate permit, and it, along with the oil spill in the gulf, lessened BP’s interest, said Fraley. BP sold to APEX, and, over the course of several years, the negotiations re-kindled. There is a history of controversy, however. Outcry from locals has been swift in the past with proposed projects on the property. A lawsuit has been filed against Botetourt County concerning wind ordinances passed by the board of supervisors in June by the Hundley family, neighbors who live nearby and oppose the project, and associated anti-wind energy forces in the county. However, the Rocky Forge project has moved forward in step with the new county ordinances.
“At the public hearing earlier this spring, I am told, the voices for the project were more than two to one in favor of the wind energy ordinances,” said Fraley, who had relatives at the public hearing. The assessment is correct from The Botetourt View’s coverage of the event.
“I want to thank all of those who have supported me and the project,” Fraley said. “APEX has put up MET towers, has one more MET tower to go and a Sodar unit, but has not yet applied for the permits to carry the project forward. They are doing a great deal of work to see this project has a future.”