A proposed wind farm in Botetourt County, while still quite large, continues to get smaller.
Apex Clean Energy said Wednesday that it plans to build 14 turbines, each one 612 feet tall, along a ridgeline on North Mountain. When the county board of supervisors approved a revised plan for the project in May 2020, it allowed a maximum of 22 turbines at a height of up to 680 feet.
“The project’s impact is minimized by erecting fewer turbines – and at an even lower height than was approved,” Apex spokeswoman Natasha Montague wrote in an email.
County planning officials continue to review site plans, a process that was extended into next year under legislation passed by the General Assembly that takes into account delays caused by the COVID-19 pandemic.
While Apex has been affected by global slowdowns in turbine supply chains, the Charlottesville company still plans to finish construction and begin operations by fall 2022, it said last week in a news release.
What has been dubbed Rocky Forge Wind is expected to be the first onshore wind farm in Virginia.
“Without a doubt, the pandemic has created some new hurdles we have had to overcome, and we appreciate the Commonwealth’s recognition of these difficult realities as they have sought to ensure that good projects still have the opportunity to succeed to benefit Virginia communities,” Charlie Johnson, senior development manager for Apex, said in the news release.
Five years ago, Rocky Forge obtained local and state permits that allowed for up to 25 turbines, no higher than 550 feet. But that version of the wind farm was never built, as a buyer for its renewable energy did not emerge.
By the time a deal was struck in 2019 for the state of Virginia to purchase the electricity to help meet its climate agenda, new technology made it possible to build fewer, but taller, turbines.
An amended special use permit approved by the Botetourt County Board of Supervisors last year gave Apex the authority to build what would have then been the tallest wind turbines in the country – making the spinning windmills about the height of a 50-story building.
But when it submitted a site plan to the county last December, Apex had trimmed its plans to 15 turbines, at 624 feet tall. Those numbers came down again in the latest plan made public by Apex.
“Turbine models are continually tweaked for optimization, so small changes can never be ruled out,” Montague said.
Opponents have said the giant turbines would be an eyesore, make too much noise, generate shadow flicker and pose a threat to a scenic, mountainous area and its wildlife.
A lawsuit filed last year seeks to stop the project by challenging a permit issued by the Virginia Department of Environmental Quality. The state has asked that the case be dismissed; an Aug. 20 hearing is scheduled in Botetourt County Circuit Court.
Rocky Forge is planned for a remote part of the county about 5 miles northeast of Eagle Rock. Active development – including building access roads, turbines and a substation – will take place on 82 acres of a nearly 7,000-acre tract designated for the project, according to the site plan.
Logging and other preliminary work started in March, Montague said.
Although Rocky Forge will be the state’s first ridgeline wind farm, two pilot turbines are in operation off the coast of Virginia Beach as part of a major offshore project planned by Dominion Energy.
Long-term plans call for Virginia’s two largest utilities, Dominion and Appalachian Power Co., to be completely carbon-free by 2050.
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