At Last, a Wind Farm Virginia Can Call Its Own

Simulated view of Rocky Forge wind farm.
Simulated view of Rocky Forge wind farm.

It looks like Virginia soon will have its first commercial wind farm. The Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ) has approved plans to build 25 giant turbines on a ridgeline in Botetourt County.

Critical to the approval was an agreement by Charlottesville-based Apex Clean Energy to turn off turbines at its Rocky Forge site during warm, calm nights during the season when bats are most active. Foes of the project had focused on the risk that the 550-foot-tall turbines would pose to bats and birds.

Virginia will join 41 other states that have wind projects. The Rocky Forge project has run a regulatory gamut, winning approvals from Botetourt County and the Federal Aviation Administration as well as DEQ. Apex had to demonstrate that its turbines would not pose a threat to commercial aviation.

Apex CEO Mark Goodwin was up-beat. “Linked with competitive pricing and clear evidence that new clean energy generation attracts major corporate investment, Rocky Forge Wind is set to begin a new chapter in Virginia’s energy future.”

Reports the Roanoke Times:

To evaluate the wind farm’s impact on the environment, DEQ relied in large part on studies conducted for Apex by private firms, in consultation with state and federal agencies.

The data showed minimal harm to birds, noting that eagles and other types of birds most threatened by turbines were not seen in large numbers at the proposed wind farm site, a 7,000-acre parcel of unpopulated woodland on North Mountain that sits about 5 miles northeast of Eagle Rock.

The company will stop its turbines from sunset to sunrise from mid-May to mid-November every year, except when the wind is blowing faster than 15 mph or it is 38 degrees or colder on the mountain ridge. … Apex says it also will avoid cutting trees within 5 miles of the bats’ caves and within 150 feet of summer roosting trees for northern long-eared bats from early spring to fall.

In echoes of criticisms leveled against the Atlantic Coast Pipeline and Mountain Valley Pipeline, critics of the project asserted that DEQ’s streamlined administrative process, enacted in 2010, is too friendly to industry.

During construction, the wind farm is expected to produce about 150 jobs. Once the project is operational, it will be run by about a half-dozen employees on-site.
Apex officials have said earlier that the facility could pump as much as $4.5 million a year into the local economy, adding to the tax base and contributing to local sales and tourism spending.

Bacon’s bottom line: Concerns that wind turbines kill birds and bats has emerged as a big issue with many proposed wind farms in the Appalachian mountains. It will be interesting to see if Apex’s concession to shut down the turbines during periods of peak wildlife activity creates a precedent that eases the approval of other wind projects in Virginia.

Virginia’s on-land wind resources are limited, restricted mainly to mountain ridge lines near existing electric transmission lines. People have convinced themselves that wind turbines, like houses, cabins and condominiums, are an eyesore and hurt their property values. Apex shrewdly located Rocky Forge on an isolated ridge seen by few people, so opposition in Botetourt was limited. Whether the Rocky Forge success can be replicated anywhere else remains to be seen.

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6 responses to “At Last, a Wind Farm Virginia Can Call Its Own”

  1. LarrytheG Avatar

    Every form of electricity generation has impacts. I just find it odd that people who apparently cannot even “see” the turbines are “concerned” about bats and birds, especially when more bats and birds are killed by a hundred times over by cars and cats, etc.

    People apparently think that coal plants are benign in comparison … even as we argue about air quality, mercury and coal ash not to mention – gas pipelines and powerlines over the James.

    Finally – there are thousands of “hidden” mountain tops in SW VA and West Va combined with a pile of blown-off mountaintops and we’re worried about the “visual impact” of turbines? Geeze!

    Why not give the unemployed coal miners jobs building wind turbines and solar panels on these blown-off mountain tops that, in turn, would lower the cost of electricity for the same folks..???

    Sometimes it seems like the Utilities are Masters of Propaganda… on wind/solar.. and NIMBY’s like to play in that same game… and in the end – we make things like wind/solar the enemy of the status quo – no matter how ugly the status quo itself is.

    wind and solar make a LOT OF SENSE for the economically depressed mountains of Va and West Va.. For more than 100 years – the rest of the East Coast urban areas has essentially destroyed the forests and the mountains of West and Western Va for their own needs…

    so we can’t stand for them to be the beneficiaries of new energy technology?

  2. LarrytheG Avatar

    this is an EIA map of existing wind turbines in the Mid Atlantic Appalachians:

    What this shows is that there are already quite a few existing generating wind turbines AND because the map itself IS a terrain map it demonstrates that there are similar terrains in the same region that probably have similar potential as yet not exploited.

    It also demonstrates that despite the cited NIMBY issues involving viewshed, birds and bats.. that the existing operating sites have overcome those obstacles.

    In other words – there ARE sites in Virginia and West Virginia that are likely just as viable as potential sites.

    Sometimes I get the impression that Bacon is parroting the conventional anti-renewables view and/or Dominion view on these issues… rather than taking a more independent look…

    What is the problem in letting the free market “work” for wind energy companies – the same way and not any more or less than other energy companies like Dominion and other 3rd party providers?

    Further I don’t think that solar/wind are any more subsidized than other forms of electricity generation. Nukes are subsidized and so are coal plants if you look at the de-facto environmental impact “subsidies” – both mercury and coal ash disposal and eminent domain subsidies.

  3. Reed Fawell 3rd Avatar
    Reed Fawell 3rd

    Best I can say is that covering lots of natural land with hot metal and class panels, and stringing lines of high spinning metal blades atop mountain ridges for all to see, is everybody’s business, and everybody should have a say, just like should have been done with slicing the tops off West Virginia’s mountains, or polluting its streams, or stripping soil off is mountain sides should have been the public’s business back then.

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