EAGLE ROCK – A permit approval by the Virginia Department of Environmental Quality of two major changes for the proposed wind farm here allows the project begin with construction now slated to start as early as this winter.
Under the new DEQ-approved modification, Rocky Forge Wind Farm will now have 22 wind turbines standing upwards of 680 feet tall and could produce enough electricity to power 21,000 homes during peak capacity. Under an earlier permit approved in April 2016, 25 wind turbines were to be constructed, standing 55 feet tall, a county official said.
Apex Clean Energy, stated in its August 2020 modification application “more efficient turbine models have become available that will allow [Rocky Forge Wind Farm] to produce more energy with fewer turbines.” The application continues that the newer turbines are “visually and mechanically similar to the previous models, but have improved software, generator capacity, tower height and blade width.”
The company stated the new turbines will comply with the county’s ordinances and requirements. The Rocky Forge Wind Farm is currently slated to have turbines run evenly about every 3.5 miles of the southernmost portion of North Mountain. However, the company said in its application, with more efficient turbines, it could foresee the project’s site plan reducing to about 120 acres, a 40 percent drop from its original plan.
The 75-megawatt facility already has a major customer lined up. The facility will sell the generated energy to Dominion Power, which has a contract with the Commonwealth of Virginia to provide renewables, Apex Clean Energy said, adding it estimates construction work could end in late 2021.
Allowing taller turbines squeaked out the approval of the Botetourt County Board of Supervisors in May by a 3-2 vote. During the four-hour meeting, citizens who opposed the wind farm spoke that turbines at 680 feet – about the size of a 50-story building – would be an eyesore, harm wildlife, make too much noise and hinder the surrounding landscape. The long-awaited project has been in the works for more than five years.
Recently, the DEQ held a second round of public comment. More than 70 members of the public provided comments on the modification application. More than 50 commenters supported the modification, while more than 20 expressed concern. Comments came in from across Southwest Virginia and as far away as Arizona and the Washington, D.C. suburbs.
Locally, most of those who supported the project wrote about the economic benefits to the county. However, many of the pro-wind farm comments read verbatim.
Michael Brown of Eagle Rock commented he supports the project, as it would provide Virginia with enough clean energy to power tens of thousands of homes and will provide additional benefits to the local community.
James Crumley of Buchanan wrote that new local jobs will be created, including 250 during construction and seven full-time to manage the site when operational.
Apex Clean Energy states on its website that the wind farm will boost Botetourt County’s economy by creating jobs and purchasing local and regional materials and services, and provide $20 million to $25 million in state and county tax revenue over the 30-year lifespan of the wind farm.
Rocky Forge would be the first ridgeline wind farm in Virginia, two pilot turbines are already operating off the coast of Virginia Beach as part of a large offshore project.
DEQ’s greenlighting of the project is the last step in the process, which included approval from the Board of Supervisors and the Federal Aviation Administration.