Here we go again. However, this time it’s worse. So what’s the lesser of two evils: 25, 550’-high wind turbines and associated destruction within a Forest Conservation District, or 22, 680’-high turbines? The people of Botetourt County will have the opportunity to consider this question on December 19th.
For perspective, imagine you’re a homeowner in a quiet residential neighborhood. Your supervisors have permitted the construction of a dog kennel, a wrecking yard or a manufacturing facility next door. Additionally, the new operators have petitioned your supervisors to replace the original single-story buildings with two-story structures. A “Special Exception Permit,” or SEP, makes all of this possible. The “exception” of course, is that this commercial activity will be allowed in a residentially-zoned location.
This is what the Botetourt County Supervisors allowed in a Forest Conservation District four years ago. That’s right – a forest Conservation District that encompasses north Mountain, one of Botetourt County’s highest, most prominent and most pristine ridgelines. Surprisingly, the proposed Rocky Forge site even violates the Sierra Club’s very own “Wind Siting Advisory,” despite the project’s apparent support from the local Roanoke chapter. This incongruity is noteworthy for reasons that I’ll let the reader contemplate.
This industrial facility will now reach a height of nearly 700 feet, dwarfing the 320-foot tall Wells Fargo building. With 22 taller turbines than initially permitted, concrete footers will be larger, shadow- flicker-effects will be greater, audible and infrasound impacts will be multiplied, signal interference will be greater, property values will be reduced and 66 longer, rotating blades will kill at least as many bats and birds, including migrating Bald and Golden Eagles. Clear-cutting, bulldozing and construction of power lines, roads and support facilities will also ensue. Apex says “not to worry.” Botetourt County will in turn require very little environmental oversight because it’s chasing Apex’s promises of a financial windfall. Truly, a match made in heaven.
There is another thing. Apex claims Rocky Forge will power “up to 20,000 homes annually” from an output of 75 megawatts. Yet according to PJM, owner and operator of the transmission lines, line capacity from Rocky Forge to the main power grid is limited to a little over 10 megawatts. This amounts to just 13 percent of Apex’s claimed rated capacity. Consequently, there is only one truth: either Apex is deliberately misrepresenting the project’s output, or Apex will make an appeal later for more transmission lines. If the latter is true, more clear-cutting will be required and likely the subject of eminent domain will come up. At this point, opponents of the Mountain Valley Pipeline will be able to offer some expertise in this regard. Again, what are Botetourt County supervisors willing to sacrifice for speculative estimates of a financial promise land?
The Botetourt Board of Supervisors has already shrugged its shoulders while throwing under the bus scores, if not hundreds of homeowners across at least three counties. This month’s Board of Supervisors meeting allows residents to take another look at a project that should have never been. At the very least, residents should lobby for meaningful improvements to an Special Exception Permit that reads as though it was written by Apex for Apex.
Van Velzer lives in Daleville.
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