DALEVILLE – Defenders and detractors filled the auditorium Thursday as the Botetourt County Board of Supervisors prepared to consider moving forward a tiny step in the complex process of allowing a company to construct a wind farm atop North Mountain.
Apex Clean Energy’s original proposal for the Rocky Forge Wind facility involved building up to 25 wind turbines with a maximum height of 550 feet. In October, the energy company requested a change to the county ordinance governing wind farms. The change would allow Apex to reduce the number of proposed turbines by building them taller, up to 680 feet high.
The matter before the board of supervisors was whether or not the county planning commission should receive Apex’s zoning request for further review. After hearing more than an hour of public comment for and against Apex Clean Energy’s proposed wind turbines, the board voted unanimously to have the planning commission review Apex’s request.
Fincastle district supervisor Richard Bailey, who represents the location where the wind farm would be built, made the motion to approve. Amsterdam district supervisor Steve Clinton requested that language be added to the motion making it clear that the vote is procedural and should not be interpreted as “a message that we approve or disapprove” of the wind farm itself, which Bailey agreed to.
Director of Community Development Nicole Pendleton outlined the next steps in the process. Staff will evaluate Apex’s proposed zoning amendments and make a recommendation to the planning commission. The commission could approve, revise or deny the request. If Apex’s request goes forward, the commission will hold a public hearing, and then send the request back to the board of supervisors with a recommendation. Supervisors would hold another public hearing before making a final decision.
Apex development manager Charlie Johnson said that since the county approved the special permit for Rocky Forge in 2016, technology has advanced to a point where turbines can be built bigger, requiring fewer of them to generate the same amount of megawatts.
“We expect to be commercially operational by the end of 2021,” Johnson told the board.
Any public hearings on Rocky Forge are likely to be lively.
Several residents of Eagle Rock, and also of Rockbridge County, appealed to Botetourt supervisors to halt the project, expressing emphatic worries about ruined views, plummeting property values, birds and bats killed by the turbine blades, effects on water quality, risk to low-flying airplanes and more.
Eagle Rock resident Larry Dew said it pained him to disagree with so many of his neighbors, but he believed the revenue generated by Rocky Forge would be well worth it. “I can see the project from my house,” he said. “I don’t think that it’s going to be something that enhances my view, but at least I’ll see that we’re contributing to Botetourt’s economy.”
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