Botetourt county to consider wind turbine ordinance virginia gas evolution reaction

If the process plays out as it has in other jurisdictions, it will involve weighing the concerns of some citizens — who might object to the sound and looks of the huge windmills — against their benefits, which include generating pollution-free electricity and tax revenue for the county.

Over the past five years, at least five wind energy companies have said they were either planning or considering turbine projects in Southwest Virginia, most of them in clusters of about 15 turbines atop mountains in Floyd, Roanoke, Pulaski and Highland counties.

However, the growth has slowed in recent years as the industry faces uncertainties with state and federal policies aimed at promoting renewable energy sources such as wind and solar. The federal production tax credit, which offers a credit of 2.3 cents per kilowatt-hour of electricity generated by a wind farm, was allowed to lapse recently in Congress, where it has led an on-and-off existence.

In Roanoke County, Invenergy announced in 2010 that it planned to build 15 to 18 turbines, each one no taller than 443 feet, on the ridgeline of Poor Mountain. The proposal angered many nearby residents who said it would devalue their property, create an eyesore and make too much noise.

Two years later, after the Roanoke County Board of Supervisors had passed an ordinance that would appear to allow the project, Invenergy said it was postponing its plans until 2015. At the time, it attributed the delay to questions about the production tax credit and other state and federal policies.

“As regulatory, tax, and market conditions remain fluid, we continue to assess our development plans for the Poor Mountain Energy Project and do not have an update to provide at this time,” Invenergy spokeswoman Alissa Krinsky wrote in an email.

While Invenergy’s plans appear to be on hold, the controversy they created is lingering. A group of Poor Mountain residents has filed a lawsuit against the board of supervisors that seeks to have the county’s wind ordinance overturned, arguing that the board failed to take their safety and welfare into account. The case is still pending in Roanoke County Circuit Court.

In Pulaski County, Iberdrola Renewables Inc. has dropped its interest in a possible wind project. In 2010, the Spanish company leased land from the Boy Scout’s Blue Ridge Mountain Council so it could build two test towers to gather information about wind strength in the area.

While many of the developers are biding their time, cities and counties in Virginia have nonetheless been revising their zoning regulations to address turbines. At least 10 jurisdictions have adopted ordinances, according to the Center for Wind Energy at James Madison University.

Guzi told the planning commission that there has been a change in the county’s philosophy on wind projects. In 2010, BP caused a stir when it put up a test tower on a possible turbine site on North Mountain without seeking the county’s approval. The board later rejected the company’s retroactive zoning request, and the tower was taken down.

County approval would be just one regulatory hurdle that Apex or any other wind energy company would be required to clear. State approval by the Department of Environmental Quality is also required, and the Federal Aviation Administration might also conduct a review to make sure the turbines would not interfere with the routes of passing airplanes.

Although wind turbines can be lightning rods for controversy, supporters say they are vital to the green energy movement, producing electricity from a free and never-ending source without the kind of pollution associated with coal-burning power plants.

Botetourt County officials say they have not yet made any projections on possible revenues. But in Roanoke County, Invenergy has said it planned to invest up to $100 million on the turbines, about $3 million of which would be spent on local materials and labor.

Without offering details, Apex says on its website that the financial impact of its Botetourt County project “is likely to be in the millions of dollars over about 30 years, with additional indirect economic benefits greatly exceeding that number.”