The winds of political change that swept the country last week are not expected to impact a proposed wind farm in Botetourt County.
President-elect Donald Trump is a skeptic of climate change and talked during his campaign about restoring a waning coal industry – positions that seem at odds with a national movement toward relying more on wind and other forms of renewable energy to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.
But the fundamentals of wind energy remain strong, according to Apex Clean Energy, which said last week that it is moving forward with its plans to build up to 25 giant turbines on top of a Botetourt County ridgeline and convert wind to electricity.
“The industry has a bright future in the Southeast,” Apex spokesman Kevin Chandler wrote in an email Friday.
A remote site on North Mountain that Apex has selected for what it calls the Rocky Forge Wind project “is one of the best sites for wind energy in the region and has been developed with tremendous public support,” Chandler wrote.
By the time Trump takes office in January, Apex might have met all the regulatory demands from local, state and federal governments that it needs to start construction of what could be the first commercial wind farm in Virginia.
The Charlottesville energy company obtained zoning approval from Botetourt County in January and a determination by the Federal Aviation Administration in October that the turbines – which at up to 449 feet would be nearly as tall as the Washington Monument – would not impede aircraft navigation.
Apex still needs a state permit. The Virginia Department of Environmental Quality is examining the wind farm’s impact on natural resources. While some of that scrutiny also falls to federal agencies, such as the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, the final call on the permit application will be made in a state where Gov. Terry McAuliffe has been a strong supporter of renewable energy projects.
Apex could also benefit from a new regulatory framework, passed by the General Assembly in 2009, aimed at streamlining the state application process for clean energy developers.
Yet on the national front, environmentalists were sounding the alarm last week following a surprise victory by Trump, who during his campaign pledged to turn back current federal rules that aim to shift electricity generation away from coal and oil and toward cleaner sources.
Trump has also promised to withdraw the United States from an international climate change agreement made in Paris last year that called on countries to reduce emissions of carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases.
“Make no mistake – the election of Donald Trump could be devastating for our climate and our future,” Sierra Club executive director Michael Brune wrote in a blog post two days after Election Day.
However, other statements made by Trump, combined with a shift to renewable energy that is already well underway, were cited in a more optimistic view by the trade association for the U.S. wind industry.
“The American Wind Energy Association is ready to work with President-elect Donald Trump and his administration to assure that wind power continues to be a vibrant part of the U.S. economy,” the organization said in a statement last week.
“‘Mr. Trump has said, ‘We can pursue all forms of energy. This includes renewable energies and the technologies of the future,’ ” the statement continued.
“We look forward to working with him and his appointees to make sure they recognize that wind is working very well in America today as a mainstream energy source.”
Wind energy accounted for 5.4 percent of the nation’s electricity in the 12 months that ended in July, according to the association, and is on track to generate 20 percent by 2030.
In his “America First” energy plan, Trump says he wants to encourage all types of power production, which “includes nuclear, wind and solar energy – but not to the exclusion of other energy.”
Trump has said he supports a production tax credit for wind energy, according to an analysis of his renewable energy positions by the League of Conservation Voters.
In December 2015, Congress extended the tax credit through the end of 2019, although the amount will be phased down for wind facilities each year.
Although Trump has said wind farms “look nice,” other public statements he made before launching his campaign for president might encourage opponents, who often argue that the giant turbines are an eyesore, make too much noise and harm the environment.
For example, he complained about a proposed offshore wind farm in Scotland in 2012, saying it would spoil the view from a golf resort he was building.
“They are ugly, they are noisy and they are dangerous,” he said at the time, according to the League of Conservation Voters.
Yet proponents of the wind industry are encouraged by Trump’s more recent comments, including those made during his victory speech early Wednesday morning, when he talked about rebuilding the country’s infrastructure, from highways to airports to utilities.
Wind turbines are often built in rural areas, where voters who formed a key part of Trump’s support have complained about job losses and tepid economic growth.
“With over 80 percent of all wind farms in Republican-held congressional districts, we envision that the Republican leadership in Congress and the White House will want to keep our industry growing,” the wind association’s statement said.
In Botetourt County, Apex hopes to begin construction on its wind farm by late next year and have it operational by the end of 2018. The company is also planning a wind farm in Pulaski County, although those plans are not as far along.
“When built, Rocky Forge will produce enough safe, clean domestic energy to power up to 20,000 homes annually while providing 20 to 25 million dollars in state and local tax revenue over the life of the project,” Apex said in its statement.
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