Status of Special Exceptions Permit under review
Botetourt County’s Department of Community Development issued written comments on June 7 to Apex Energy on the company’s site development plans for its wind energy project known as Rocky Forge Wind. The company submitted the most recent set of materials for review on March 18.
Apex’s plans were reviewed by county zoning officials, VDOT, and local emergency response officials. In addition, the county engaged Antares Group Inc., an independent consulting group that specializes in assessing renewable energy efficiency projects and programs, and VHB, an environmental review firm, to review the plans. The purpose of the reviews is to ensure that construction details of the project will meet state transportation, local zoning, and public safety regulations. No construction activity for the project may start until plans are approved by VDOT and county zoning officials and bonds have been approved and secured.
“This is part of the typical approval process for development projects,” said Community Development Director Nicole Pendleton. “Because of the nature of this project, its complexity, and the myriad details required due to potential impacts on the environment and community, thorough reviews of the project plans by all of the agencies involved are extremely important. Because utility-scale wind farms are not something we deal with regularly, we engaged Antares, who are experts on these kinds of projects, to assist us.”
Monday’s comments were issued ahead of the deadline allowed for agency review and comment, which is June 14, and address on-site development plans only. Reviews of off-site development plans submitted by Apex are continuing.
In addition to completing the review of off-site plans submitted by Apex, county zoning officials are reviewing a request from Virginians for Responsible Energy and correspondence from Apex related to a state law passed by a special session of the General Assembly in October of last year that extends certain development permits until July 1, 2022 due to the COVID-19 pandemic. In question is whether the new law applies to Apex Energy’s Special Exceptions Permit. The SEP required that the company receive site plan approval for the Rocky Forge Wind project by May 26, 2021, otherwise the SEP would expire. VRE has requested a determination by the County’s zoning administrator answering that question and Apex had submitted correspondence to county on the issue, as well. By State Code, a determination of VRE’s question must be provided within 90 days.
APEX was first granted the SEP by the county to pursue the project on North Mountain in 2016. The SEP was modified and extended at the company’s request in May 2020 when the company indicated construction would be completed by the end of 2021. The SEP was modified to increase the allowable height of turbines and required that the company receive site plan approval by May 26, 2021. Construction on the Rocky Forge project has not begun.
Following a recent inspection of tree harvesting on and around the site, county personnel concluded that the harvesting is being done under a Virginia Department of Forestry permit granted to the property’s owner and is not within the county’s regulatory authority. No permits for land disturbance or any construction activity have been issued by Botetourt County and may not be issued until site plans are approved. County personnel will continue to monitor site conditions.