By Alison Murtagh
Construction of the Rocky Forge Wind project in Botetourt County has been delayed because Apex Clean Energy, the renewable energy company responsible for the project, cannot find a buyer for the energy. As of now, the company does not have a scheduled start date for the beginning of construction.
The proposed wind farm was approved by Botetourt County’s Board of Supervisors in January of 2016. This past July, Charlie Johnson, the development manager for Apex, told the Board that the company was working to begin construction by the end of the year. However, no progress has been made toward construction.
Brooke Beaver, a public affairs associate from Apex, said the company is looking for a partner to commercialize the project.
“We do not yet have a specific date for the start of construction, but are working steadfastly towards that goal,” Beaver said in an email.
The project would permit up to 25 wind turbines, each up to 550 feet high, to be installed on North Mountain. According to the project’s website, up to 75 megawatts of energy could be produced, enough to power up to 20,000 homes. Beaver said that as of now, there is not a set number of turbines for the site.
Measuring the wind
The company monitored the area’s wind for over two years using onsite meteorological towers and SODAR wind profiling units. The company also looked at previous data collected by nearby weather stations and airports.
“Consistently, it has shown that Rocky Forge hosts a strong wind source,” Beaver said in an email. “The project will have minimal impact on the land use and will increase accessibility to the site.”
Dan Crawford, chairman of the executive committee of the Roanoke Group of the Sierra Club, is a supporter of the project.
“We don’t need wind turbines all the way down the spine of the Appalachians, but we could use several wind farms,” Crawford said. “And Rocky Forge is one of the more desirable sites in the state.”
According to Crawford, the area is desirable due to its proximity to consumers, as well as the power lines already running through the site. The proposed location is on private property in a rather remote area.
However, the project has been controversial from the start. Neighbors in Rockbridge County, which, unlike Botetourt County, gets no tax revenue from the project, have complained about the visual intrusion on the pristine mountaintop.
Some have also questioned energy potential of the location. Steven Hart, a civil engineer and professor at the Virginia Military Institute, looked at wind data gathered by James Madison University, from a mountain next to North Mountain. After analyzing the data, Hart said he doesn’t think the Rocky Forge site will be able to generate as much power as is expected. Additionally, he wants the company to release more information regarding how much power the company predicts will actually be generated, as opposed to the potential maximum amount.
“If Apex comes clean with the numbers, if they’re starting to show everybody numbers, I think they’d get more support if the support is actually warranted,” Hart said. “Based on the research I’ve done, I don’t think it’s a good location for the project, because it’s not going to make enough power.”
Concerns about efficacy and impact
Hart said that power will still need to be generated somewhere else as well, such as by coal mines or nuclear power plants, because the wind turbines probably won’t create enough energy.
“You’re going to have these things, and most of the time they’re going to sit there and not make power,” Hart said.
Additionally, Hart said the wind turbines could have a micro effect on the climate in regards to air pollution and frost patterns.
Other residents are concerned about the wind turbines impacting their view of the mountains.
However, despite multiple pushbacks on the project, the company is still planning to move forward.
“A later start date gives Rocky Forge the opportunity to utilize newer turbine technology, making Rocky Forge even more competitive in the market and further decreasing the cost of energy it can produce,” Beaver said in an email.
Crawford said the project is a step in the right direction for the whole state in regards to renewable energy.
“Let’s face it, if we don’t make radical changes in the current trend, we’re toast,” Crawford said. Climate change can’t kid anyone, it’s happening, and it’s happening more quickly than anyone ever predicted.”