To test the winds for its planned turbine project, an energy company this week put up two 197-foot towers on North Mountain in Botetourt County.
Apex Clean Energy of Charlottesville, which wants to build as many as 25 larger turbines on the ridgeline to convert wind to electricity, recently was issued a building permit for the towers from the county’s planning staff.
The temporary towers will be used to gather data about wind strength and frequency at the site, about five miles northeast of Eagle Rock.
Apex spokesman Kevin Chandler said that while the company already has gathered some information atop North Mountain, the two towers — and possibly a third — are needed to get a more complete picture before construction begins.
The company has said it hopes to have the turbines spinning by 2017 or 2018. There are currently no commercial wind farms in Virginia.
It was not clear Wednesday exactly where the towers, which resemble huge antennas, are located on a 7,000-acre piece of private property that Apex has leased for the project.
Although the two test towers are three feet short of the 200-foot minimum height of structures that require approval by the Federal Aviation Administration, Chandler said Apex has notified the agency out of courtesy to passing aircraft.
In anticipation of the project, Botetourt County recently passed an ordinance that allows wind turbines up to 550 feet tall — higher than downtown Roanoke’s tallest building — to be built in areas zoned for agriculture or forestland. Before construction begins, Apex would have to obtain a special exception from the board of supervisors. State approval from the Virginia Department of Environmental Quality is also needed.
The ordinance sets a number of restrictions on turbines, including how much noise they can make and how far they can stand from adjacent property lines.
Last month, eight county residents challenged the ordinance in court. Their lawsuit seeks to invalidate the set of rules, claiming that it does not adequately protect against problems such as low-frequency noise and shadow flicker caused by the giant windmills.
At a board of supervisors public hearing in June, supporters of wind energy outnumbered opponents by more than 2 to 1. Advocates say Virginia needs to use more renewable energy sources such as wind to reduce pollution from coal-fired power plants.
Apex has said its wind farm would tap in to a nearby utility line, producing enough electricity to power about 20,000 homes. The project would also be an economic boost for the county, which is seeking new forms of revenue.