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Wind farm could be an economic windfall for Botetourt County

EAGLE ROCK – A wind farm proposed for Botetourt County could pump as much as $4.5 million a year into the local economy, according to the project’s developer.

The economic impact would be even greater – up to $15.5 million – in the year or longer it would take to build the giant turbines on top of North Mountain, a construction project that would require as many as 150 jobs.

Officials with Apex Clean Energy, which is seeking county permission to build up to 25 turbines on the remote site north of Eagle Rock, presented the most detailed economic projections to date for the wind farm at an open house Wednesday evening.

Called Rocky Forge Wind, the project would generate between $20 million and $25 million in state and local taxes in its 30-year lifespan, according to estimates by Magnum Economics, a consulting firm that crunched the numbers for Apex.

The estimated 150 full-time-equivalent jobs would be temporary, lasting only for the duration of construction. Once the wind farm is completed and the blades begin to spin, the project would be operated by about seven employees making a total of about $480,000 a year.

In addition to creating jobs and local tax revenue, Rocky Forge could be an economic windfall in a variety of ways, from property leases to equipment purchases to tourism spending from out-of-towners who might visit Botetourt County to see what could be the state’s first commercial wind farm.

There was no formal presentation or discussion Wednesday of the wind farm’s economic projections, which were displayed on one of several poster boards set up for public viewing in the cafeteria of Eagle Rock Elementary School.

But the figures are sure to be of interest to members of the Botetourt County Board of Supervisors, who during recent budget discussions have lamented the need for new sources of revenue for the county.

Assuming Apex gets approval from the board of supervisors and other regulatory agencies, the Charlottesville-based company will invest about $150 million in the wind farm, director of mid-Atlantic development Tyson Utt said. To make money off the project, Apex will sell the electricity generated from the wind turbines to a utility.

Exactly who will purchase the electricity – enough to power up to 20,000 homes – has yet to be finalized.

“Though we do inform potential power purchasers about the project and its status, our main focus at this time is on permitting and community outreach,” Apex spokesman Kevin Chandler wrote in a recent email. Once the electricity makes its way onto the power grid via a transmission line that already crosses the wind farm property, it could be sold to a variety of utilities or electric cooperatives.

As currently planned, the wind farm would consist of up to 25 turbines – each one as tall as 550 feet – that would be arranged in a Y-shaped formation that would follow two ridgelines of North Mountain for about 3.5 miles.

The 200-acre project would sit amid more than 7,000 acres of private land leased to Apex in a remote area where the nearest home would be more than a mile away.

Although plans for wind farms have drawn opposition in more populated areas, there have been only scattered protests to the Rocky Forge proposal.

Five Botetourt County residents have filed a lawsuit against the county, claiming that an ordinance passed last year to regulate turbines does not adequately protect the public from problems that include low-frequency noise, shadow flicker, and harm to the environment.

The county has asked a judge to dismiss the lawsuit; a hearing is scheduled for Dec. 16.

Meanwhile, the county planning commission is expected to consider Apex’s application for a special exception permit at its Jan. 11 meeting. Final approval will be up to the board of supervisors.