Proposed Botetourt County wind farm needs new approval as plans change to make turbines taller

Developer said equipment has evolved to be taller in five years since initial approval was granted

BOTETOURT COUNTY, Va. – The future of a proposed wind farm in Botetourt County is up in the air after changes to the project. County leaders initially approved the plan in 2015, but they’re taking another look now that the developer, Apex Clean Energy, said the turbines need to be taller.

Apex said despite getting approval in 2015, it waited to construct the project until it secured a buyer for the electricity the farm will generate. Now with Dominion on board after the two struck an agreement last fall, Apex is ready to move forward. But it said technology has changed in the time since, and that the taller turbines produce 10 percent more electricity. That means they could build fewer turbines, but at a taller height.

The Rocky Forge wind farm was in a holding pattern until the deal with Dominion was secured. With a power buyer, the farm can connect to the grid and sell its electricity. Apex Clean Energy Senior Development Manager Charlie Johnson said it took time to get the deal done.

“It’s a new type of power here in Virginia, so that was an education, we’ve since done that with the Commonwealth of Virginia through Dominion so this project really has legs now," Johnson said.

The project would be the first onshore wind farm project in Virginia and has strong support from Governor Ralph Northam. Apex said the physical turbine equipment has changed and vendors are trending toward taller turbines.

“The technology that’s currently available for a project like this is much larger, in terms of height but we can also do the project with much fewer turbines," Johnson said.

The initial plan was for turbines up to 550 feet tall, the maximum allowed height under the county’s wind ordinance. But now Apex wants to build turbines up to 680 feet tall, 130 feet above the county’s limit. The company’s request triggered the board of supervisors to direct county staff to take another look at the ordinance and see if it’s still in line.

“(The board) said staff we want you to look at the entire ordinance as a whole, and we want to get as much feedback and information to make sure that the ordinance that we have today matches and is the most current and up to date ordinance," county community development director Nicole Pendleton said.

An open house in Eagle Rock Monday provided that opportunity. Apex said they are ready to start construction by the end of the year if all goes to plan, but declined to say if the project would die if the county did not approve the ordinance amendments to allow taller turbines.

“You never know, it’s tough to say because the market is always moving around, but what we’re seeing right now is that the opportunities are at the taller heights," Johnson said.

After county staff gathers its feedback, any proposed changes to the ordinance would go before the planning commission and eventually the board of supervisors for a decision. There is no set schedule for that, but it’s estimated that could be sometime in the spring or early summer.