The Virginia Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ) issued the state’s first Small Renewable Energy Project (Wind) Permit By Rule for a utility-scale wind farm last week.
The permit will allow Apex Clean Energy to take the next steps in developing the Rocky Forge Wind turbine project on North Mountain near Eagle Rock.
The permit was Rocky Forge Wind’s last major hurdle for the proposed project.
The announcement was in a March 2 letter to Rocky Forge LLC from Michael G. Dowd, the DEQ’s Director of Air and Renewable Energy Division.
“This approval marks a major milestone for the project,” Apex Public Affairs Manager Kevin Chandler said in an email. “Moving forward, we’ll continue to work to complete other permitting and on the commercialization of the project. We could begin construction as soon as the end of this year, but that of course depends on achieving all of our other project milestones.”
Those milestones include finding an energy buyer for the electricity the wind farm will produce.
“The Permit By Rule (PBR) approval process required more than two years of consultation and study in conjunction with DEQ and other agencies in the Secretariat of Natural Resources,” Rocky Forge Wind Project Manager Charlie Johnson said in an announcement about the permit. “This thorough application process covers each phase of constructing and operating Rocky Forge Wind, from the pre-construction natural resource analyses to post-construction monitoring.”
Johnson added, “Wind energy is the perfect fit for the new Virginia economy, bringing clean energy and economic development to the Commonwealth.”
The announcement about the permit was considered good news by county officials as well.
“Rocky Forge will be a large contributor to Botetourt County’s tax base, while having a minimal effect on existing land use of the thousands of acres of rural land in the project area. This seems like a win-win to me,” Board of Supervisors Chair Jack Leffel said in a prepared statement.
County Administrator Gary Larrowe added, “Botetourt County studied and reviewed Rocky Forge Wind for over a year. It was ultimately approved unanimously by our Board of Supervisors both because it met our county’s wind energy guidelines and because it aligns with Botetourt County’s mission of embracing responsible growth and innovation.”
Johnson said Apex already employs approximately 200 people in Virginia, and Rocky Forge Wind will bring new jobs to Botetourt County and millions of dollars in local tax revenue over the life of the project, providing more money for schools and emergency services.
In a letter to project supporters, Johnson said, “We could not have accomplished this task without you, and we continue to be humbled by the amount of local and regional support for the project.”
The project received unanimous approval at every stage of local permitting and was endorsed by a wide variety of organizations, including the Roanoke Chapter of the Sierra Club, the Virginia Deer Hunters Association, and the Virginia Conservation Legacy Fund, among others. Several other local officials and organizations have also weighed in on the project’s approval.
Sherry Crumley of Buchanan, a national board member for the National Wild Turkey Federation, added, “As a resident of Botetourt County for more than 25 years and supporter of our area’s sporting traditions, I believe wind energy is a great way to produce power while protecting traditional land uses like hunting and fishing.”
The Roanoke Group of the Virginia Chapter of the Sierra Club also noted its support in a message from Dan Crawford, Group Chair. “Virginians overwhelmingly want more renewable energy, and wind power offers one of the cleanest, safest forms of electricity generation. Rocky Forge Wind is a great step toward growing the Commonwealth’s clean energy.”
There has been opposition to the project because of concerns about the visual impact from 500-foot tall wind turbines and the possible impact they could have on wildlife.
The DEQ permit addresses some of those challenges through a mitigation plan.
A February 1 Mitigation Plan approved by the Department of Game and Inland Fisheries and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service includes a commitment to limit the wind turbine operations at certain times to protect breeding and feeding bats and eagles.
It also includes post-construction monitoring.
Tree removal will also be coordinated with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service
(USFWS) to protect the northern long-eared bat.
Another part of the Mitigation Plan provides that Rocky Forge Wind will make a financial contribution to the Botetourt Historical Society to support its interpretation of the historic mining and furnace operations in the county.
Remnants of the Tredegar House and Rebecca Furnace that date to before the Civil War are on part of the property. The Department of Historic Resources agreed to the Mitigation Plan that also includes completing a Preliminary Information Form for the property.
The permit gives Rocky Forge Wind the authority to construct and operate the wind energy project on roughly 200 acres across two privately owned parcels totaling 7,355 acres. It will have a cumulative total generating capacity not to exceed 80 MW.
In addition to the mitigation plans, the DEQ also “strongly” encouraged Rocky Forge to follow a list of “Recommended Actions.” They include:
- Site the wind turbines in a manner that would reduce visual impacts to the James River and surrounding scenic byways, and preserve the surrounding forest corridors to the greatest extent practical.
- Minimizing project fragmentation as well as the project’s overall footprint.
- No use of plants listed by the Department of Conservation and Recreation (DCR) as invasive for post-construction site restoration and eliminating invasive species on the turbine sites while implementing an invasive species control plan for workers and equipment; then monitoring for invasive plant species for up to five years
The permit announcement was also well received in the Botetourt business community.
In a prepared statement, Pete Pearl, President of the Botetourt County Chamber of Commerce, said, “The Chamber of Commerce is delighted at the prospect of having Apex join the Botetourt family of businesses. A new renewable energy business in Botetourt will be good for the local economy and the environment and the Chamber is looking forward to working with Apex in the future.”
Del. Terry Austin also commented. “As the 19th District representative in the House of Delegates, I’m excited to see Virginia’s first wind energy project enter its final phase of compliance. The community is excited to see the alternative form of energy come to completion,” he said. “We look forward to the construction beginning and the successful completion of Virginia’s first wind farm.”
— Ed McCoy