DALEVILLE – The developers of a commercial wind farm in Botetourt County say they expect it to begin producing electricity by the end of 2018, a year later than originally projected.
Apex Clean Energy remains confident in its plans for what will be the first project of its kind in Virginia, development manager Charlie Johnson told the county board of supervisors Tuesday.
When the board approved a special-exception permit for the 25-turbine facility in January, the Charlottesville energy company said it planned to start construction by the end of this year.
Under that timeline, the turbines’ giant blades would have started to turn sometime in 2017.
But Apex is still waiting to receive approval from the Virginia Department of Environmental Quality, which must evaluate the turbines’ impact on natural resources, and the Federal Aviation Administration, which is studying their effect on passing aircraft.
As part of the DEQ process, Apex held a monthlong public comment session that ended June 6. But after obtaining new information about some of the wind farm’s environmental impacts and discovering an error in an earlier report, Apex decided to reopen the public comment period.
The second public comment session ended Sept 6. Apex is now in the process of compiling the written and spoken comments it received in a report that it will submit to DEQ. The environmental agency will then have 90 days to decide on the permit application.
At the same time, the FAA has been reconsidering its finding of nearly a year ago that the turbines would pose a “presumed hazard” to aircraft navigation.
Under FAA rules, any structure higher than 499 feet is presumed to be a danger. The turbines Apex plans to build would be as high as 550 feet, or almost as tall as the Washington Monument.
At Apex’s request, the FAA agreed to conduct a more detailed study. The nearest public airport from the turbine site is Ingalls Field in Hot Springs, about 17 miles to the northwest.
While the regulatory process plays out, Apex has also been testing the winds for a utility or other entity that would be interested in purchasing electricity generated by the 75 megawatt facility, to be called Rocky Forge.
“Folks in Virginia aren’t used to buying wind, so it’s been an educational process,” Johnson told the board.
Apex wants to build up to 25 turbines atop North Mountain in a remote part of Botetourt County, about five miles northeast of Eagle Rock.
Plans call for a Y-shaped formation of turbines that would extend for 3.5 miles along two ridgelines. Electricity generated by the facility would be transferred to the power grid through an existing utility line that already crosses the 7,000-acre property.
Apex officials say the wind farm will generate enough electricity to power up to 20,000 homes.
Although company officials say they expect the wind farm to have a “minimal environmental impact,” they acknowledge that bats could be endangered by the spinning turbines.
Under a plan presented to DEQ as part of an application Apex filed in May, the developer offered to turn the turbines off at night during the warmer parts of the year, when bats foraging for food might be struck by their blades.