A company that wants to build 25 wind turbines high atop a Botetourt County mountain is seeking clearance from the Federal Aviation Administration.
Apex Clean Energy of Charlottesville needs a determination from the FAA that the giant, power-generating windmills will not interfere with passing airplanes.
In a proposal recently filed with the federal agency, Apex lists the height of the turbines as 549 feet – just 1 foot short of what’s allowed in a newly passed county ordinance that regulates utility-scale wind turbines.
The Wells Fargo tower in downtown Roanoke is 364 feet tall.
“It’s important to note that this filing represents only a hypothetical layout of the maximum number and height of turbines,” Apex spokesman Kevin Chandler wrote in an email. “Rather than representing what the project will for certain look like, its purpose is to allow the FAA to assess the scenarios around the wind farm and then get back to us with their recommendations.”
The filing is the latest indication that Apex is moving forward in what could be the first commercial wind farm in Virginia.
Plans call for two lines of turbines running along separate ridges of North Mountain, about 5 miles northeast of Eagle Rock. The company in August erected two 197-foot test towers on the site to gather data on wind speeds.
Depending on the exact elevation of their base, the turbines will reach heights of between 2,733 and 4,439 feet above sea level, according to the FAA filing.
FAA approval is required for any structures – including cellphone towers, construction cranes and wind turbines – more than 200 feet tall.
“I don’t see a huge impact with the Roanoke airport,” said Matthew Broughton, president of a local aviation club called IFR Pilots Club.
Four years ago, Broughton and other pilots expressed grave concerns about the proposed placement of wind turbines on Poor Mountain in Roanoke County. That location was closer to the airport, and the fear was that airplanes flying at lower elevations during approaches and takeoffs could be forced to make adjustments.
But the FAA found that 14 of 18 turbines proposed for Poor Mountain would not pose a hazard to air navigation. The ruling would have allowed the developer, Invenergy of Chicago, to propose alternative locations or heights for the remaining four windmills.
Not long after that, Invenergy announced that it was putting its plans on hold for unrelated reasons. There has been no movement on the Roanoke County project since then.
Although commercial airplanes pass over North Mountain at higher elevations, Broughton still expressed concerns about the turbines’ impact on smaller, recreational aircraft. The Blue Ridge Soaring Society often launches gliders from neighboring Craig County, he said.
If Apex gets clearance from the FAA, it would still have to obtain a special exception permit from the Botetourt County Board of Supervisors. State approval would also rest with the Department of Environmental Quality.
Apex has said it hopes to have the turbines spinning by 2017 or 2018. The 80-megawatt project, which would tap into a nearby utility line operated by Dominion, would produce enough electricity to power 20,000 homes, the company says.