Botetourt County leaders review community feedback, still yet to decide on taller wind turbines

BOTETOURT COUNTY, Va. – Botetourt County leaders are still considering whether to allow wind turbines taller than they originally approved five years ago. This after the company behind the county's first proposed wind farm, Apex Energy, said the Rocky Forge Wind Farm needs to be taller than originally planned.

On Monday night the planning commission reviewed public feedback from an online survey and the company's project manager, Charlie Johnson, was also there and said the plans are still on track.

The county is reviewing its ordinance for the entire county, not specific to a single project, but right now the Rocky Forge project is the only one on the books. Originally approved in 2015, it took Apex four years to find a buyer for the electricity it would produce. And in that time technology driving the industry has changed.

"The turbines on the market right now for a 2021 start of operations they widely range in height and capacity size so the bottom line is we've applied to the county for the maximum height which is 680 feet," Johnson said.

The county originally approved height of 550 feet for wind turbines. But Apex is now asking the county to adjust that to 680 feet due to the new technology demands.

Planning Commission chairman Brandon Nicely said they continue to review all feedback and county leaders will be taking more site tours of other currently operating wind farms.

"Along with the consultant as the board has approved to hire to review the entire ordinance I think it's really giving it the best effort possible to make the right decision," Nicely said.

On Monday night the commission reviewed the feedback that was collected online after a community open house earlier this year. Less than 100 people took the survey, showing half in favor of the change to the ordinance and half not.

Those opposed to the change are generally against wind farms as a whole, and not just ones taller than what's already allowed.

"I am keeping an open mind and listening to them all and hopefully late spring, early summer we'll come to a conclusion on this," Nicely said.

Apex hopes to break ground soon after that, no later than the end of the year, and then hopes to bring the windmills online by the end of next year. They have a target amount of electricity to produce and the number of turbines and their heights will be an algebra problem based on what the county decides them to do.

"We could build, if they're the tallest turbines it could be much fewer than 22 of them, because of the capacity of the generators is much larger, but if we go shorter turbines that may go beyond the 550 that was originally approved, it may be closer to the 22 number," Johnson said.

The board of supervisors will make the final decision on the change.

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