IMPORTANT NEWS: The public comment period for Rocky Forge has ended. Apex must now produce a document containing all of the comments and their responses. When that document becomes available, we will post it on our site. Click here to view the application documents provided by Apex to the DEQ.
Please see the Wind Power Issues – Safety page for detailed information about issues associated with wind turbines. Given the potential for the release of hazardous oils as described on that page, is Botetourt County equipped to handle an environmental disaster of this magnitude?
As detailed on the Wind Power Issues – Safety page, wind turbines are also subject to frequent fires. If a fire starts on a windy day, given the location of the turbines, surrounded by forests and steep terrain, the possibility of burning material starting a forest fire is real. Given the environmental importance of the surrounding area, and the difficulty of controlling fires in difficult terrain, this is a serious issue. As detailed on page 7 of the Background Report Fraley Apex Utility Scale Wind_Jan_16, the nearest fire stations are the Glen Wilton Fire and Rescue station located approximately 15 miles from the entrance of the subject property, while the Eagle Rock Fire and Rescue station is located approximately 9 miles from the property entrance. Given that the fire trucks and firefighters will need to drive up to the top of the mountain, the time it will take to actually put resources into action will be significant. Below is a picture of a turbine fire at the Mount Storm West Virginia Wind Facility on January 4, 2015.
Photo Courtesy of Larry Thomas (Cumberland Time-News)
According to the Cumberland TIme-News, another wind turbine fire in Mount Storm occurred in 2008 during routine maintenance. That fire started in the nacelle, which is a cover that houses all of the generating components.
In addition to the potential for oil spills and fire, the wind facility will also pose a hazard to aircraft. As part of the permit process, the FAA asked for public comments about the dangers to aviation. One of the members of Virginians for Responsible Energy submitted the following comments to the FAA:
- There are several small airports near the proposed site. These are small airports at which there is a lot of activity with small planes, night time landings, training, etc., often operating under VFR. This is a mountainous area which is naturally hazardous due to weather conditions (i.e., sudden deterioration of VFR conditions, frequent fog & wind), and the terrain itself. Having 25 structures extending 550 feet above the ridge line of North Mountain will be a major increase to the hazardous conditions. In addition to the towers themselves, there may well be power lines connecting the towers which are much less visible adding to the hazard.
- Because of the terrain, this is an ideal area for non-powered (i.e., gliders) and ultralights. Since these aircraft are much more limited in their capabilities for avoidance of tall structures if wind currents are strong, then again the 550 foot tall wind turbines will be a dangerous additional factor in operating these aircraft.
- There are often military flights in this area flying at low altitudes. This is a recognized danger and warnings are posted at the area airports. The military aircraft can be operating at very high speeds and low altitudes, so these wind turbines can pose a significant hazard.
- There have been several military and private plane crashes in this part of Virginia. For search and rescue aircraft the proposed towers will add to the dangers of operating in this region.
- There are many rescue helicopter flights between Roanoke and communities in Botetourt, Rockbridge, and Alleghany Counties to ferry emergency and critical care patients to hospitals in Roanoke. These flights can occur at any time of the day or night, in any weather conditions. Having 25 500 foot tall towers on the ridgeline of North Mountain will significantly increase the risk to the crews and passengers of these emergency flights.
- Forest fires are a frequent occurrence in this area, and due to the rugged terrain aircraft are often used to help control these fires. The existence of high towers will reduce the ability of these aircraft to take flight paths that would be optimal for suppressing any fires in this area. In addition the smoke from these fires would obscure the towers adding to the hazardous conditions for these firefighting aircraft.