Botetourt Planning Commission OK’s taller windmills, now onto Board of Supervisors

Wind turbines would be up to 680 feet tall at a proposed wind farm in Eagle Rock

BOTETOURT COUNTY, Va. – The Botetourt County Planning Commission recommended approval for taller wind turbines allowed under the county’s utility wind ordinance. The ordinance would govern all wind farms in the county, of which there is only one on the table right now.

The Rocky Forge wind farm, proposed for a ridgeline just outside Eagle Rock, would be Virginia’s first on-shore wind farm. It initially received approval five years ago, but that was for 550-foot turbines. The project was delayed however as the company behind the farm, Apex Energy, waited to find a power buyer. Now the company wants approval to build turbines up to 680 feet tall, which project manager Charlie Johnson said is the latest standard.

“We’re in a position to do that and I think it’s the responsible thing to do, putting the newest technology up and not technology that was new a few years ago," Johnson said.

The company wants permission to build up to 22 turbines but said because of the taller height the actual number would be somewhere between 12 and 18.

They would go on Jon Cooper’s family property. He spoke in favor of the project on Monday night. He said his family has been working to get turbines on the land for 15 years now and part of their earned income will help fund preservation.

“It’s a ten thousand acre parcel we’re doing wildlife habitat improvement projects all the time. We have given more blood sweat and tears to conservation," Cooper said.

But many opposed to the project shared their concerns too. This project has already been approved once, at the lower height, so they didn’t have high hopes.

“Well the planning board had already had their mind made up, they’ve done a lot of talking with Apex they’ve not done hardly any discussions with the opposition," Eric Claunch said.

Those opposed to the project say they’re even more concerned now at the taller height about how far they’ll be seen. Johnson said however at a distance of more than 15 to 20 miles you won’t be able to see much.

“But the bottom line is the turbines from that long of a distance are going to be pretty tough to see quite frankly from the Blue Ridge Mountains," Johnson said.

The recommended changes also include a deadline extension for the project.

The changes to the ordinance and the project specifics still need final approval from the board of supervisors. It’s expected to be on the board’s agenda in the next few weeks.