Apex Clean Energy Inc. continues working toward a day when wind turbines standing atop Botetourt County’s North Mountain might generate enough energy to power up to 21,000 homes each year.
Dubbed Rocky Forge Wind, the proposed wind farm north of Eagle Rock would be Virginia’s first onshore wind project in operation. However, some residents have filed a lawsuit in hopes of quashing it.
County and state officials have been discussing the wind energy project for six years with Charlottesville-based Apex, which constructs, owns and operates wind and solar power facilities across the nation.
In 2019, Gov. Ralph Northam announced the state government had entered into an agreement to purchase Rocky Forge Wind’s approximately 75-megawatt output – a move designed to help the state meet its goal of obtaining at least 30% of the electricity required for state agencies from renewable sources by 2022.
Limited tree clearing on the property began in mid-March “and marked the commencement of construction for Rocky Forge Wind,” Apex spokeswoman Natasha Montague says. Apex plans to erect 14 turbines, each standing 612 feet high and generating up to 5.5 megawatts apiece. The company expects the wind project to be operational in fall 2022.
However, a grassroots group called Virginians for Responsible Energy and 13 residents of Botetourt and Rockbridge counties filed a December 2020 lawsuit in Botetourt Circuit Court alleging that Rocky Forge Wind’s application to the state Department of Environmental Quality, approved last year, was “woefully incomplete” and that state reviewers rushed to approve the application even though it contained “old and irrelevant documents.”
A hearing on the matter is scheduled for Aug. 20. Jeff Scott, a member of Virginians for Responsible Energy and one of the suit’s plaintiffs, lives on about 30 acres of wilderness in Rockbridge and is concerned about the project’s impact on wildlife. “I’m not opposed to renewable energy,” he says. “I’m opposed to renewable energy that is not situated appropriately.”
In a response filed in court, attorneys representing Rocky Forge Wind charged that the lawsuit was an “opportunistic, last-ditch effort to stymie the project.”
Dan Crawford, chair of the Sierra Club’s Roanoke Group and chair of onshore wind promotion for the Virginia Chapter of the Sierra Club, believes the lawsuit, in the end, will amount only to a speed bump.
“They’ll clear the legal hassle and start construction,” Crawford predicts.
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