Apex Encounters Headwinds in Botetourt Wind Project

by James A. Bacon

An interesting player is emerging in the Virginia renewable energy scene — Apex Clean Energy. The Charlottesville-based company has announced that it has erected two test towers for a proposed wind farm in Botetourt County to gather data about wind strength and frequency. The company has proposed constructing up to 25 wind turbines on a ridgeline about five miles east of Eagle Rock, according to news reports.

But the Rocky Forge project is encountering legal headwinds. A lawsuit filed a month ago sought to block the project on the grounds that “industrial turbines are known to catch fire, to collapse, emit audible and low frequency noise, cause shadow flicker and to throw ice from spinning blades in the wintertime,” reported the Roanoke Times. The lawsuit also noted that turbines kill birds and bats and destroy their habitat.

Dominion Virginia Power is running into similar obstacles in Tazewell County, where the energy giant faces stiff local opposition. The Tazewell County has proposed a zoning plan that would classify solar panels and wind turbines with other undesirable developments such as medical waste facilities that require a special permit.

For Apex Clean Energy, Rocky Forge is one of two wind power projects in Virginia. The facility would have a capacity of 80 megawatts, enough to power 20,000 houses. The expected completion date is 2017-2018, according to the company website. Another project, Pinewood Wind in Pulaski County, would have a capacity of 180 megawatts, enough to power 50,000 houses. All told, the company lists 53 projects in its portfolio, with the greatest concentration in the plains states of Texas and Oklahoma.

The company was founded in 2009 with the mission of building “a new kind of energy company.” The founders, who had sold their previous company, Greenlight Energy, to BP Alternative Energy, assembled a team of wind and solar energy professionals with skill sets that could originate projects, finance them, build them and manage them.

It’s not clear from the company website or news reports what the business model is for the Virginia wind farms. Among the possibilities: Purchase Power Agreements, in which a customer signs a contract to purchase a specified amount of energy from a project; project ownership in which Apex delivers a turn-key facility along with asset-management services over to a buyer; and a Structured Purchase Agreement, a long-term price agreement that allow companies to hedge against volatile fuel prices. Or Apex simply may sell electricity into the PJM electric bid, which supports a market for green energy.

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  1. LarrytheG Avatar

    “Botetourt County supervisors OK wind turbine regulations”

    ” Tuesday’s vote followed a public hearing in which 13 speakers enthusiastically supported the idea of allowing wind energy in the county. Six were staunchly opposed. No one waffled.”

    the environmental community often gets the blame for opposing such things but these days, more often than not, it’s plain old NIMBYs.

    We have them up our way – they are vehemently opposed to cell towers they can “see” … I kid you not – even though they WANT better cell coverage.. they want it somewhere else and roads.. never heard one of them cry about roads that serve their homes, whose shoulders and ditches are littered with crushed critters including birds …

    If there are real adverse impacts to turbines – over and above impacts we already accept for roads, powerlines and other things – that cannot be mitigated – we should prohibit them.

    I don’t know how much folks think about these things is realistic ways but many millions of birds are killed each year by flying in to cars, buildings, bridges, fences, windows, static towers etc as well as millions of other killed by aircraft and on exposed ponds with toxic materials in them.

    Anyone who drives a car – knows what the carnage in roadside ditches.

    Hardly a days goes by when we leave the house and go somewhere that we don’t see a squirrel, skunk, groundhog, deer, and birds done in by vehicles so I don’t doubt for a minute that wind turbines might also have some adverse affects – but I do question if we are using a double standard sometimes.

    If you really do care – you should see what plastics and fish line is doing to the critters in the ocean.. or hormone-laden poop from commercial poultry and feedlot operations.doing to fish and wildlife in rivers.

    Somewhere in the middle of all of this -there ought to be some reasonable proportional mindset..

    but as so many other things now days – we struggle to get there…

    1. True enough, NIMBYs expropriate the rhetoric of environmentalists when they want to oppose a project.

      As much as they love wind power generically, environmentalists don’t do much to support specific projects when they run into opposition. I think they’re happy to let the power companies take the heat for something they (the environmentalists) want to see happen. They’d rather spend their political capital on other stuff — usually fighting the power companies.

    2. TooManyTaxes Avatar

      It looks ugly is not a winning argument. One, therefore, needs to dig for other arguments – some may be reasonable; others aren’t. But if one wants to reduce carbon emissions, one needs to accept non-coal burning generators of electricity.

      Even Millennials living in cramped apartments need electricity.

      Agree there needs to be some reasonable proportional solutions.

  2. Rowinguy Avatar

    With the new CPP and state compliance plans coming in the near term, I expect that if these projects can get built, they will have a surefire demand for their power or at least the renewable energy credits that will be produced.

  3. LarrytheG Avatar

    the environmental community is not some monolithic group with one radical view.

    wind turbines in particular have split the greenies.

    Environmental Defense: ” And while wind turbines kill far fewer songbirds than building collisions or cats, raptors and bats are still at risk for turbine collisions. However, we believe clean energy and wildlife conservation do not have to be mutually exclusive. Research on the topic is underway and technology is emerging to help minimize the environmental impacts of wind turbines on birds and bats.”

    NRDC – There is no denying that utility-scale wind turbines are tall and unique features in any given landscape. They do produce sound when wind hits them. They create a faint shadow when it’s sunny (but like any shadow, it falls behind the sun, which moves across the sky each day and variates position seasonally, so it’s never in one spot for more than a few minutes). And yes, there are occasional bird and bat collisions that occur.

    Overall Health Impact: An independent expert panel established by the Massachusetts Department of Environmental Protection and Department of Public Health in January 2012 gave wind a clean bill of health, based on analyzing all available scientific studies. The agencies reported that,

    “There is no evidence for a set of health effects, from exposure to wind turbines that could be characterized as a ‘Wind Turbine Syndrome.’…we conclude the weight of the evidence suggests no association between noise from wind turbines and measures of psychological distress or mental health problems.”

    Birds and Bats: Acknowledging that bird and bat collisions do occur with wind turbines, the American Bird Conservancy (ABC) has developed “Bird-smart” review guidelines for wind energy development. (NRDC is leading the way in Smart-from-the-Start siting.) For broader perspective it’s important not to lose sight of the fact(s) that direct bird and bat kills caused by wind energy pale in comparison to other infrastructure and human-created activity”

    Sierra Club: WIND POWER IS INEXHAUSTIBLE, clean, and virtually free—but still not perfect. When you compare its downsides to those of most other forms of power generation—from mercury and mountaintop removal to oil slicks and nuclear waste—wind looks pretty good. But it still requires major industrial operations with undeniable environmental effects. Wind turbines can be noisy. They can disrupt natural landscapes. Constructing them can damage wildlife habitats. And, sadly, their spinning blades can kill birds and bats.

    Poor turbine designs and bad siting made the early days of wind power especially deadly. Particularly notorious was California’s Altamont Pass Wind Farm, whose 4,930 aging turbines still kill an average of 67 protected golden eagles per year. It took three decades of lawsuits and the eventual intervention of California’s attorney general to persuade Altamont’s operators to agree to a settlement: NextEra Energy Resources will phase out half of the older turbines, with their metal lattice towers that provide inviting but deadly perches, by 2015. Replacement windmills will use smooth monopole towers with no places to perch. The company is also paying $2.5 million for raptor habitat restoration and monitoring to compensate for the continued loss of birdlife.

    but the main thing to pay attention to – is these three organizations acceptance of the benefit and need of energy for human civilization and how there are indeed costs to the benefits.

    I actually find their positions much more moderate than many groups strident and unyielding positions on a wide variety of issues these days to be honest.

    and like Rowinguy – no matter how you feel about Climate Change or C02 or the EPA – wind power and solar makes sense… where it is appropriate and cost-effective and the benefits exceed the impacts.

    there is virtually no form of man-made energy generation without impacts.

  4. LtG, your comments in re the decades of legal ramifications of the lattice design towers is an example of why not many of us wants to be first with many new technologies … lattice towers … whirring blades … noise syndrome … transient shadows … who knew?

    Glad VEPCO backed away from the turbines off The Beach. Maybe they’ll just go hog wild solar so they can fry some birds.

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