Plans for a 25-turbine wind farm atop a Botetourt County mountain are now official.
After months of preliminary planning and discussions, Apex Clean Energy on Friday afternoon filed an application for a special exception permit, which it must obtain from the county board of supervisors before starting construction.
The Charlottesville company hopes to have the giant windmills spinning by 2017.
Similar plans by other renewable energy companies interested in building turbines in Southwest Virginia have stalled over the years, leaving Apex and Botetourt County poised to have the state’s first commercial wind farm.
From the top of North Mountain, about five miles northeast of Eagle Rock, as many as 25 turbines would stand nearly 550 feet tall, almost 200 feet higher than the tallest building in downtown Roanoke.
Apex’s application, filed with the county’s planning department, is “well over 100 pages,” said Tyson Utt, director of mid-Atlantic development for the company. “It’s a thick binder.”
When Botetourt County learned that it was being considered for a wind farm about a year ago, county officials began work on an ordinance to regulate such industries. Under a process established in June, Apex’s application for a special exception permit will first be considered by the planning commission.
The planning commission will then make a recommendation to the board of supervisors, which would vet the plans through a public hearing and other measures before deciding whether to allow the windmills.
That process is not expected to start until early next year, and could take several months.
Meanwhile, Apex plans to host an open forum to explain its plans to the public. That could happen sometime in December, Utt said.
The county’s ordinance limits the height of power-generating turbines to 550 feet. It also restricts how far they can stand from adjoining property lines, and requires that the sounds made by their spinning blades be no louder than 60 decibels when heard from the nearest property line.
Wind farms have been controversial in other parts of Southwest Virginia, with some nearby residents complaining they are noisy eyesores that can produce flickering shadows. Opponents also say the turbines can harm birds, bats and their natural habitat.
But the Botetourt County proposal has not been as controversial, perhaps because the North Mountain site is so isolated. At a public hearing on the ordinance last summer, supporters outnumbered opponents by more than 2-to-1.
Some opposition has surfaced, though. Eight county residents filed a lawsuit against the board of supervisors in July, alleging that the ordinance does not provide adequate safeguards. The county is asking that the lawsuit be dismissed. A hearing is set for Dec. 16.
Even if the court challenge fails and the county approves Apex’s plans, the company would still face additional regulatory hurdles. Other agencies that must consider the project include the Federal Aviation Administration and the Virginia Department of Environmental Quality.
If approved, the 80-megawatt project would tap into existing power lines operated on North Mountain by Dominion, providing enough electricity to power 20,000 homes. The project could also provide a jolt to the local economy, and comes at a time when county supervisors say they need to find additional sources of revenue.
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