Why wind energy?
Wind energy is among the fastest-growing new sources of energy. In addition, during 2019, the U.S. wind industry reached a milestone of over 100 gigawatts of energy. As wind technology and knowledge about wind resources both improve, more and more areas are becoming viable for wind energy. This includes Virginia, where the Rocky Forge Wind site has one of the strongest wind resources in the Commonwealth.
Why is Apex the right company for this project?
Apex Clean Energy develops, constructs, and operates utility-scale wind and solar power facilities across North America. Our mission-driven team of more than 200 renewable energy experts use a data-focused approach and an unrivaled portfolio of projects to create solutions for the world’s most innovative and forward-thinking customers. We strive to always work toward developing the best possible projects for local communities and landowners. Rocky Forge is especially important to us. As a Charlottesville-based company, we are committed to helping Virginia realize the environmental and economic development benefits of clean energy generation from projects such as Rocky Forge.
Where is the Rocky Forge Wind project located?
Rocky Forge Wind is located on private land in a remote section of northern Botetourt County, several miles northeast of Eagle Rock along a southern segment of North Mountain. It’s also about 7 miles southeast of Iron Gate, 15 miles northeast of Fincastle, and 11 miles from Buchanan and Natural Bridge. A map of the project location can be found here.
What makes this location suitable?
This particular location is suitable for a number of reasons: It has a strong wind resource, based on verified on-site wind data; it already has an existing high-voltage power line that traverses the project site, which limits our need to construct new lines; and it is part of an expansive tract of over 7,000 acres of private land that provides more than a mile of buffer from its nearest neighbor.
How big is the project?
Rocky Forge Wind will consist of up to 22 wind turbines. A single turbine of the latest technology can produce enough electricity to power up to 1,500 homes, meaning that this project could provide the amount of electricity needed to power all the homes in Botetourt County.
Can the project really produce that much electricity?
Our projection of up to 21,000 homes powered annually by Rocky Forge Wind was calculated using the wind resource data collected onsite and capacity factor of the turbines. Any capacity factor listed by the regional transmission organization, PJM, is based on a generic formula that is in use throughout its entire grid, and we have confirmed through extensive study that our projections are appropriate. The ability of the area transmission line to handle the full power from the project is documented in PJM’s study of the project, which confirmed that our point of interconnection and the area transmission lines are fully capable of handling the entire project load. Studying transmission infrastructure and electricity production is often very technical, but we are confident that our electricity projections and the ability of Rocky Forge Wind to deliver the claimed amount of power.
The calculation for this projected number of homes powered is as simple as:
When will you know whether you have approval to construct the project?
In the past few years, the project has received approval from Botetourt County and the Department of Environmental quality to construct and operate the project.
Apex recently submitted both a zoning text amendment and a special exception permit amendment to Botetourt County to allow for the newest turbine technology to be considered, as well as an extension to the previous approval to allow for the project to complete development and construction. By utilizing the newest technology, the project will be able to produce even more electricity with fewer turbines.
How big are these wind turbines?
Modern wind turbines that are suitable for this location consist of tower heights roughly 450 feet tall and with an overall blade tip height of up to 680 feet. These are low-RPM turbines, taking three to four seconds to complete one revolution, with redundant safety systems to withstand extreme weather conditions. The newer turbines operate more efficiently, as they can harness the wind at taller hub heights, thus reducing the overall number of turbines in the project.
Will the turbines require lighting?
No white strobe lights will be used on the turbines. The wind farm will employ the minimum number of standard nighttime red strobe lights as required by the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) for the safety of passing aircraft.
Will this project affect my electric bill?
Retail electricity rates are set by the State Corporation Commission, and Rocky Forge Wind has had to demonstrate that it can provide electricity at competitive rates to attract a purchaser. In today’s energy environment, wind acts as a stabilizing force. Because the fuel for wind energy is free, the technology provides a long-term hedge against volatile fuel prices, and in some areas, wind is currently—on an unsubsidized basis—the lowest-cost form of new electricity, saving ratepayers money.
Will this project be subsidized?
Rocky Forge Wind will be developed and built through private investment. It’s important to note that all forms of energy are incentivized in some fashion. The most commonly applied tax credit for wind energy is called the production tax credit (PTC). The PTC is a tax credit for only the verified production of electricity during the first 10 years of a project’s 30-year operational life. Therefore, there is no PTC involvement in the project until it becomes operational.
Who will maintain the facility?
Apex Clean Energy hopes to take on the long-term operation of the wind project, but that will be determined in the financing stage of the project. The operations and maintenance would be performed by a handful of local employees as well as the staff at a remote operations control center.
What about decommissioning?
Under the requirements of Botetourt County’s Wind Energy Ordinance, any wind project developer must provide financial security to cover decommissioning costs for the project. This security ensures that funds are always available to remove the wind farm in the event of a worst-case scenario.
Questions about Health, Safety, and the Environment
How do you address potential bird and bat impacts?
Wind projects go through stringent consultation, analysis, and permitting with state and federal wildlife agencies, which evaluate and regulate any potential impacts the project might have on wildlife. These studies are all approved by their respective agencies, and the project must comply with the necessary regulations before being permitted to build and operate. The wind industry has gone to great lengths to incorporate advanced siting, construction, and operational practices to address concerns of impacts to birds, bats, and other wildlife.
Properly sited wind energy projects protect birds and wildlife by producing no dangerous pollutants or carbon emissions. While birds do occasionally collide with turbine blades, modern wind farms are far less harmful to birds than buildings, communication towers, power lines, and vehicles. In fact, turbines account for only a small fraction, about .0003%, of all human-related bird deaths.
What about other wildlife impacts?
To date, there is no evidence that wind energy has any negative impact on wild mammals or livestock. In fact, it’s not uncommon to see cows or deer grazing right next to turbines in project areas.
Why is wind energy good for water use and local water quality?
In contrast to some forms of energy that can pollute local water supplies, wind energy produces no hazardous waste that can pollute rivers or streams, and it uses nearly zero water during operation, making it an ideal energy source in a water-constrained world.
Are wind turbines noisy?
Modern turbine technology has been very effective in minimizing sound. Almost all modern turbines now employ quiet electric yaw motors, and new blade designs focus specifically on sound reduction. Rocky Forge Wind will comply with noise standards built into Botetourt County’s Wind Energy Ordinance.
Will the turbines create low-frequency infrasound?
Some claim that infrasound below the range of human hearing causes health problems, but in truth, infrasound is generated by phenomena all around us. Natural examples include wind and waves. Man-made examples include cars, airplanes, appliances, and other large machines. Multiple studies published in peer-reviewed, scientific journals have found that inaudible infrasound from wind turbines does not cause negative health impacts.
What about aviation impacts?
We are working with the FAA and local airports to study the effect the project may have on area air navigation. In its preliminary report, the FAA estimated that Rocky Forge Wind would not negatively affect area air traffic, but we are still waiting on its final determination.
Will the wind turbines affect military airspace?
Apex consults with the military and the Department of Defense early in the siting process to ensure that the project can coexist with military training exercises. During the FAA process, the military is also given the ability to comment on the turbine filings. In the development of Rocky Forge, the military did request that we use night vision–compatible lighting to assist pilots who are flying in the dark, which we readily agreed to.
What is shadow flicker?
Shadow flicker is a rare occurrence and also highly predictable, because it depends on the position of both the sun and the wind turbine as well as the distance from the observer. The wind farm will be designed such that each wind turbine is appropriately set back from residences in order to manage the number of occurrences of shadow flicker. Conditions must be just right for shadow flicker to occur, and turbines can be located, per recommendations in the relevant studies, to limit this on nearby residences.
How do you prevent ice throw?
Rocky Forge Wind will be designed such that each wind turbine is appropriately set back from roads and property lines to minimize the likelihood of injury in the rare instance that ice is thrown from a wind turbine blade. Modern turbine technology includes sensors that help prevent these occurrences.