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FAA reopens its analysis of planned wind farm in Botetourt County

FAA reopens its analysis of planned wind farm in Botetourt County

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The Federal Aviation Administration has reopened its analysis of whether wind turbines up to 680 feet tall atop a Botetourt County mountain would interfere with passing aircraft.

After completing a review in August, the FAA found no hazard. But since then, the agency has determined that not all government officials or public airport owners were notified of a public comment period.

Last month, the public comment period was reopened. The FAA will receive input through Sunday before making a second determination.

“The FAA will consider all comments received and will not predetermine or speculate about the outcome,” a spokesperson wrote in an email this week.

Following the FAA’s approval in August, the Virginia Department of Environmental Quality issued the last needed permit for Apex Clean Energy to build up to 22 wind turbines atop North Mountain in a remote part of the county.

Construction has not started but is anticipated to begin this winter and be completed next year, Apex spokeswoman Natasha Montague said Friday.

Montague said an administrative error led to the reopened analysis, and Apex expects to receive an updated finding of no hazard from the FAA shortly.

A key stakeholder in the process is the Department of Defense, which has a training route in the area for low-flying military jets. “We successfully came to an agreement with them in May that taller turbines on the property will have no impact on their training through the airspace,” Montague wrote in an email.

When the wind farm was first proposed in 2015, plans called for 25 turbines at a height of up to 550 feet. Changes in technology later allowed for fewer turbines, but at a greater height.

As the first on-shore wind farm in Virginia, Rocky Forge Wind will provide electricity to the state government, helping it to reach a goal of using renewable sources for at least 30% of the power consumed by its agencies and executive branch by 2022.

Although opponents have said the turbines will be unsightly, noisy and harmful to the environment, the FAA’s analysis is limited to air navigation issues. Information on how to comment can be found at https://oeaaa.faa.gov.

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Laurence Hammack covers environmental issues, including the Mountain Valley Pipeline, and business and enterprise stories. He has been a reporter for The Roanoke Times for more than three decades.

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