By Dan Crawford
Crawford is chair of the Roanoke Group, Sierra Club.
Virginia is one of only nine states with no utility-scale wind power. Go in any direction from Virginia and you’ll find wind power, except Maryland, and they have impressive plans for off-shore wind. West Virginia, known traditionally for coal, has six wind farms. One in four people in the U.S. live in places now committed to 100% clean energy. It is time, Virginia.
The Commonwealth is committed to getting 30% of our power from renewables by 2030, buying 420 megawatts (MW) of wind and solar power, with 75 MW from Apex Clean Energy’s wind farm in Botetourt County, Rocky Forge.
The Rocky Forge site is as close to perfect as we can expect. With a verified wind resource, high-voltage transmission lines nearby, on expansive, remote private land with existing roads, near highways that can handle the transport of materials and equipment, any complications will readily be surmounted. It will generate up to $25 million in tax revenue for the state and Botetourt County, produce up to 250 jobs during construction and about seven permanent jobs, and generate significant business locally on materials and a variety of supportive functions.
Wind energy is, by far, the most productive source of clean energy on Earth. Solar is making impressive strides, and they both compete handily in most power markets. When compared to mountaintop removal, or fracking, and the attendant pipelines, the choice becomes clearer every day.
These details alone sell me on Rocky Forge, but let’s look at the most compelling consideration — rapid climate change. In 2018, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), a function of the U.N., issued a special report on the environmental and socioeconomic consequences of global warming exceeding 1.5 degrees. The world needs to reduce its greenhouse gas emissions to about half of 2010 levels by 2030, and to net zero by 2050. The consequences of failure are beyond imagination, and irreversible. Emissions are rising, not falling.
We share the concern for birds and bats, knowing rapid climate change will wipe them out, along with most, if not all higher life forms. So does the Audubon Society, the world’s pre-eminent authority on and protector of birds. Their web site says: “Audubon strongly supports properly-sited wind power as a renewable energy source that helps reduce the threats posed to birds and people by climate change. However, we also advocate that wind power facilities should be planned, sited, and operated in ways that minimize harm to birds and other wildlife, and we advocate that wildlife agencies should ensure strong enforcement of the laws that protect birds and other wildlife.”
They tell us that for every bird killed by a turbine, 10,000 are killed by other human-related causes such as poorly managed cats, buildings, vehicles, poisons, “cell towers,” etc.
The Sierra Club and the Audubon Society agree that siting is key. Thus, the Important Bird Areas program, a global initiative of BirdLife International, was implemented by Audubon and local partners in the United States. It identifies areas vital to birds and especially sensitive to development. The IBA nearest to the site is 12 miles away.
Since bats pose unique challenges, Apex will put the brakes on its turbines from sunset to sunrise each year, from mid-May to mid-November, except when the wind is blowing faster than 15 mph or it is 38 degrees or colder at the site.
Since March of 2017, when the Virginia Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ) issued their permit, technology has advanced, making larger, more powerful turbines feasible and economically attractive — Same power with fewer turbines. Thus, Apex must apply for amendments to the Botetourt County and DEQ permits, raising the height limit from 550 to 700 feet. The parties involved will greatly appreciate any support, and so will our children and grandchildren. We have the opportunity, and responsibility to hasten the transition from fossil fuels to renewables.