New information about the environmental impact of what could be Virginia’s first commercial wind farm has prompted the developer to schedule a second public comment period.
Apex Clean Energy said this week that it decided to reopen the process after discovering an error in an earlier report on the bird population of North Mountain in Botetourt County, where the Charlottesville company plans to build up to 25 wind turbines.
The report’s conclusion – that spinning turbines as tall as 550 feet would not pose an unacceptable risk to birds – has not changed, Apex spokesman Kevin Chandler said.
But Apex decided to invite additional public comment after the consultant that conducted the study requested a correction to the report. Apex included the original report in a lengthy application to the Virginia Department of Environmental Quality that was the subject of a monthlong public comment period that ended June 6.
Chandler said the consultant revised two paragraphs “to more accurately reflect their findings from the field,” but he did not elaborate. Attempts to reach the consultant, Western EcoSystems Technology, were unsuccessful.
The second public comment period – from Aug. 4 to Sept. 6 – will be limited to the revised report and two other studies that were not completed until recently.
“It’s important to note that this additional comment period is not a requirement but rather something Apex has elected to do,” Chandler wrote in an email.
“As potentially the first wind energy project in the Commonwealth, we take seriously the responsibility to do this in the most transparent and thorough manner possible.”
The second comment period also will solicit input on reports, not previously available, on the project’s impact on the rare pirate bush and invasive species. No pirate bush was found within the area, according to Apex. Details on the invasive species report were not available.
According to notices published in newspapers this week, the three reports will be available at the Eagle Rock Library starting Aug. 4 and throughout the monthlong public comment period. The notices state that written comments can be sent to Apex by email, to firstname.lastname@example.org, or mail, to Apex Clean Energy, 310 Fourth St. N.E. Suite 200, Charlottesville, VA 22902.
Since plans for the Rocky Forge wind farm first became public in February 2015, opinions have been mixed.
Supporters of renewable energy say putting the turbines on a remote ridgeline about 5 miles northeast of Eagle Rock will reduce pollution from coal-burning power plants. Opponents say the giant turbines will be an eyesore, make too much noise, kill birds and bats, and destroy their natural habitat.
In its application to the DEQ, Apex has already offered to take steps to reduce the risk to bats.
A proposed mitigation plan calls for the turbines to be curbed from dusk to dawn every year between May 15 and Nov. 15, when bats are foraging for food. But they could remain on when the wind is blowing faster than 15 mph or when the temperature drops below 38 degrees, conditions that keep bats grounded.
Eagles and other birds were not observed in large enough numbers to merit a mitigation plan, Apex wrote in an application filed with the DEQ in May. The application included supporting documents that filled a binder more than 4 inches thick.
In January, the Botetourt County Board of Supervisors approved a special exception permit for the wind farm. The Federal Aviation Administration is studying the turbines’ impact on aircraft navigation. With a second DEQ public comment period, there will be even more scrutiny.
“We’re always hopeful,” said Denise Neas of Virginians for Responsible Energy, a Rockbridge County organization that opposes the wind farm.
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