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Botetourt County plans community meeting on proposed wind farm

A long-delayed wind farm proposed for a Botetourt County mountaintop will be the subject of a community meeting Monday.

County staff will host the forum from 4 to 7 p.m. at Eagle Rock Elementary School to share information on the project, which calls for installing up to 25 commercial wind turbines along the ridgeline of nearby North Mountain.

The board of supervisors approved a special exception permit in 2016, but developer Apex Clean Energy delayed starting construction until it could find a buyer for the up to 75 megawatts of the electricity the turbines will produce.

Last October, the state of Virginia announced that Dominion Energy will purchase the electricity from Apex and then sell it to the state as part of a larger package of renewable energy that also includes four solar facilities.

The deal will help Virginia meet its goal of getting at least 30% of the electricity consumed by its agencies and executive branch from renewable sources by 2022, while also advancing plans for the state’s first onshore utility-scale wind farm.

But by the time the agreement was struck, Apex had changed its plans for the size and number of the turbines.

Improvements in technology allowed for fewer turbines – about 22 as opposed to 25 – but at a height of up to 680 feet, company officials said. When it approved the permit four years ago, Botetourt County set the maximum height at 550 feet.

The county must now consider changing its ordinance to allow for the taller turbines. If that happens, Apex could file an application to have its permit amended.

At Monday’s meeting, county staff will present information and answer questions from the public. Written comments will be accepted, but the meeting will not include a public hearing.

Up to four public hearings could be held in the future, two by the planning commission and board of supervisors on the change to the ordinance, and then another two if Apex asks that its permit be amended.

The wind farm is proposed for an isolated 7,000-acre spot north of Eagle Rock, and Apex officials have said the turbines’ larger size will not dramatically change their visibility or the noise or shadow flicker they produce.

Supporters outnumbered opponents by more than 2-1 when the board of supervisors approved the project. But some nearby residents are concerned about ruined views, reduced property values and environmental damage caused by the turbines, which will be as tall as a 50-story skyscraper.