Botetourt wind farm developer to start work in winter; still lacks buyer for electricity

DALEVILLE — A clean energy developer hopes to start construction of a wind farm in Botetourt County by year’s end, even as it continues to search for a power company to purchase electricity generated by the giant turbines.

Apex Clean Energy is “working diligently” to begin work on the site by November or December, development manager Charlie Johnson told the county board of supervisors Tuesday.

Johnson said the company is confident of meeting its deadline “if all the pieces fall into place.”

One of the pieces yet to fall into place is an agreement with a utility to purchase electricity from the 80-megawatt project, which Apex says would be capable of powering up to 20,000 homes as a green energy source.

Although no deal has been signed, Johnson said there has been strong interest in the wind farm from utilities at a time when Virginia is seeing rapid growth in the renewable energy market.

“We’re in the right place at the right time with this project,” he told the board.

Following the meeting, Johnson said Apex would prefer to have a power purchase agreement in place before it begins work on the site atop North Mountain. Apex wants to build up to 25 power-generating turbines — each one as tall as 550 feet, or about the height of the Washington Monument — on the remote ridgeline about five miles northeast of Eagle Rock.

In January 2016, the Botetourt County Board of Supervisors approved a special exception permit for the facility, which is poised to become the first commercial wind farm in Virginia.

At the time, Apex said it planned to start construction by the end of 2016. That goal was pushed back a year as the company sought approval from the Virginia Department of Environmental Quality, which evaluated the turbines’ impact on natural resources, and the Federal Aviation Administration, which studied their effect on passing aircraft.

Both agencies have since approved the project.

Still, some critics contend the wind doesn’t blow strong or long enough atop North Mountain to make the project viable.

“Wind turbines in the Alleghany Mountains do not produce much power and especially during the times of peak energy needs” in the summer, Steve Neas of Virginians for Responsible Energy wrote in a recent email.

Neas’ group is based in Rockbridge County, which shares a boundary with Botetourt that is within a short distance from the proposed wind farm.

Opponents have contended that Apex is most interested in collecting federal subsidies that come with the wind farm and that the farm’s low electrical output could be the reason the company has yet to secure a purchaser.

Johnson countered that the company has done extensive research and is confident that it has found a prime location for its wind farm. “The wind up there is definitely feasible,” he said.

Under a permit approved by DEQ, Apex could start work on grading and road development no sooner than Nov. 15, a date selected to minimize the project’s impact on the environment.

Construction of the turbines would likely begin next summer, Johnson said, with the project expected to go online by the end of 2018.


JUL 25 2017
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