EAGLE ROCK – The controversial Rocky Forge wind farm slated for construction starting this winter will use advanced technology turbines, reducing the number of gigantic structures used to generate enough electricity to power many midsize Virginia cities.
The recently approved Virginia Department of Environmental Protection’s permit reduced the wind turbines from 25 to a maximum of 22, but increased their heights from 550 feet to a maximum of 680 feet.
However, the company said those numbers aren’t solid. “There would not be a circumstance where the project could utilize the maximum of both metrics. It is likely that there would be many fewer turbines at a taller height, or closer to 22 turbines at heights much lower than 680 feet,” a statement to The Fincastle Herald reads.
A spokesperson for the company explained new technology allows for less turbines. The reduction is due to newer turbine models that are taller and produce more output than older models. “The newest onshore turbines can produce more than 5-MW of power per turbine. These more powerful turbines are also more efficient, which will allow future wind farms to produce more electricity with fewer turbines,” said Natasha Montague, public engagement manager for Apex.
The newer turbines at Rocky Forge will produce 75-MW during peak operations, enough to power 21,000 homes, about the population of Waynesboro and Christiansburg and more than needed to light Culpeper and Bristol.
Montague explained that since the Rocky Forge project started nearly six years ago, significant developments in technology have occurred, including taller and quieter turbines. The federal Department of Energy’s Wind Vision report states advances were made in longer blades and taller towers that capture more energy from the wind, as well as new developments in drive train design and use of improved controls and sensors.
The report continues that advances in technology, especially micro-siting strategies and complex control systems for turbines, have created a better understanding of the wind resource. Additionally, the report states, decreasing wind energy costs are driving U.S. demand for wind power, wind industry jobs and economic growth in all regions of the county. The Department of Energy’s Energy Information Administration’s figures show wind energy generation has skyrocketed from 0 percent in 1990 to 7.3 percent in 2019.
In addition to larger blades, bigger rotors are creating more efficient turbines. Those changes, Montague said, allow turbines to collect more energy from the wind. “Because these newer turbines are more efficient, they have helped the cost of wind energy to fall dramatically,” she said, adding wind energy is currently the cheapest form of new energy generation available in many parts of the U.S.
Rocky Forge has already signed on a prominent customer. A power purchase agreement between Apex Clean Energy and the Old Dominion was inked recently. The project will help Virginia meet a self-imposed goal of buying at least 30 percent of the electricity used by state agencies and executive branch from renewable sources by 2022. A call to the Virginia General Services to find out how much savings renewable energy would provide went unanswered last week.
Within the next decade, Rocky Forge will help Virginia meet its target of powering 30 percent of its electric grid with carbon-free electricity and 100 percent within 30 years.
It’s unknown currently how Rocky Forge will be impacted by the Virginia Clean Energy Act (VCEA) signed last fall that requires the usage of 16,100 MW of onshore wind and solar by 2035. Of the 16,100 MW 12,000 MW must be generated in-state.
“Rocky Forge wind will count towards this goal,” said Montague, noting the development of Rocky Forge wind began years before the VCEA passage.
The agreement will help the project’s profitability. Critics of renewable energy, including the Rocky Forge project, contend carbon-free power is a boondoggle to taxpayers.
The solar and wind industry disagree, saying if U.S. tax breaks were even between renewables and carbon-based energies clean energy would have a larger foothold on the energy sector. They quickly point out that renewable energy tax breaks are temporary and currently being phasing out; whereas, the fossil-based energy producers – coal, natural gas – are permanent.
The nonpartisan Tax Policy Center states, “provisions of the federal income tax that subsidize domestic production of fossil fuels include the expensing of exploration, development, and intangible drilling costs; the use of percentage depletion instead of cost depletion to recover drilling and development costs of oil and gas wells and coal mines; and numerous smaller incentives for production and distribution of oil, coal, and natural gas.”
The Center estimates tax subsidies for oil, gas and coal development are expected to reduce federal revenues by $11.5 billions from 2019 to 2023. The largest subsidies are excess of percentage cost depletion, estimated at $3 billion, and expense of exploration and development costs at $2.7 billion.
In the last federal budget, tax breaks and incentives for many renewable energies were deleted, shelved or greatly limited or reduced, according to the Joint Committee on Taxation.