Rocky Forge 2020 entirely different from Rocky Forge 2017
If one listens closely, the sound of screeching tires comes rolling out of Charlottesville as Apex Clean Energy pumps the brakes again. The speed bumps this time result from last month’s court ruling where Circuit Court Judge Joel Branscom 1) tweaked the definition of legal “standing” re: damages from industrial wind facilities, and 2) sent an already-issued Department of Environmental Quality permit back for review.
Huh? I thought the story was that Apex was on a glide path to “sustainability heaven,” courtesy of the American taxpayer. Nope. At least, not yet.
So what happened? In a word, “sanity.” For the first time in this seven-year struggle, Virginia landowners might actually have a legal right to protect the value of their property from the blight of industrial wind facilities. And no, such installations are not “wind farms.” There is nothing pastoral or bucolic about them. From the clear cutting, blasting and road widening to the installation of spinning blades atop towers twice the height of the Wells Fargo Tower, Rocky Forge has never been a good fit for a Forest Conservation District. And this is to say nothing of the often-overlooked construction of related maintenance buildings, additional electrical infrastructure, power lines and towers.
“What?” you say. “All that in a Forest Conservation District?” Yep. Until now, we were told that we should watch passively as an out-of-town corporation destroys our natural environment in order to save our natural environment. This was the word from the governor’s office. It was pushed both subtlety and explicitly down to the local level for reasons more political than environmental.
Thankfully, landowners and residents in both Botetourt and Rockbridge counties begged to differ. They have also financed a legal challenge that ,if ultimately successful, will benefit every property owner in Virginia. Virginians for Responsible Energy lawyer Evan Mayo went straight to the point when he stated in court, “No one would look at something 700 feet tall and say it only affects people living within 2,000 feet.” It’s a great day when common sense triumphs.
But that’s not all. It might well be that Judge Branscom will return to the Department of Environmental Quality the permit it granted to Apex in 2017. Why? Because DEQ allowed Apex to modify its initial permit – modifications that included changes to the height, location and number of turbines. Moreover, DEQ allowed Apex to omit significant documentation that might have prejudiced its case. Oh sure, there was a public comment period. But without all the fact on the table, what was the value of this exercise? Stay tuned.
Throughout all of this, the unavoidable perception has been that Apex and a government agency – the Virginia Department of Environmental Quality – acted in concert to undermine the rights of Botetourt and Rockbridge County landowners to protect their private property. Was the DEQ taking orders from our last governor? Isn’t it the job of the DEQ to protect the integrity of Virginia’s natural resources? How is it that DEQ personnel did not see that Rocky Forge 2020 was an entirely different project from Rocky Forge 2017?
The arc of this storyline remains largely hidden from public view even as it is worthy of much greater media attention. This hasn’t happened because Apex has relied on the popular mythology attached to clean energy production while county officials simply want to do what they think is best for county residents. The initial reaction of county residents – like people everywhere – has been to take Apex at its word, even as they have had no experience with living in the shadow of industrial wind facilities. Thankfully, there seems to be a rising tide of county residents hinting at “buyers’ remorse.” This is better late than never, of course.
Speaking as one whose family fought the first wind turbines in southern California back in the 1980s, I would remind my friends and neighbors that we’re discussing changes to Botetourt County that will be permanent. There will be no going back from this. Moreover, experience teaches us that one wind energy facility is soon followed by others.
The bottom line is that beyond the harmful impact of infrasound, the devaluation of property values, the danger posed to fragile wildlife populations and riparian environments, Apex is simply a bad actor. Its business model is predicated upon enriching itself at taxpayers’ expense by taking their projects into sparsely populated areas with no prior experience with industrial wind. Having identified a vulnerable community, it combines secretive “Good Neighbor” contracts and corporate propaganda to squeeze as many tax advantages out of local governments as possible.
Apex would leave in its wake only a handful of jobs for traveling technicians, the permanent alteration of local environments, divided communities, and a sense of regret that will grow over time.
This is Botetourt County, Virginia. Let’s not make the same mistakes that have overtaken California.
Bill Van Velzer
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