Hundley: Apex Clean Energy must update environmental impact data

Hundley: Apex Clean Energy must update environmental impact data

  • Melissa Hundley
  • Jul 1, 2022

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A view of North Mountain from the Hundley farm

A view of North Mountain from the Hundley farm

  • Melissa Hundley

Melissa Hundley

Melissa Hundley

Melissa Hundley

I’ve spent most of my life exploring, nurturing, and loving my family’s 855 acres of forests and fields and 3 miles of perennial streams that are adjacent to the proposed Rocky Forge Wind Farm site in Botetourt County.

My parents were determined to conserve some Virginia forest land, and so the land is in a conservation easement. The proposed location for the turbines is a wildlife habitat for innumerable species, but my greatest concerns are the known impacts on the birds and bats and the aquatic species that are at risk from soil erosion and stream sedimentation.

I am blessed to know what clean streams look like. It is a privilege but it shouldn’t be. I know if construction begins on the Rocky Forge site, because of the land disturbance, this will cause soil erosion and stream sedimentation into the streams when it rains. Everybody knows it, but the decision-makers in this process have not assessed and disclosed the impacts.

Common sense tells me that when the proposed turbines increase in size, the impacts change. It has been at least eight years since wildlife information to assess the impacts has been collected.

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Eight years is a long time when terrestrial and aquatic life are being impacted at an unprecedented rate and scale. Climate change is rapidly impacting our environment.

Wildlife studies done eight or more years ago are useless to describe conditions today. The proposed turbine site is in the southernmost breeding territory for the golden eagle. Golden eagles fly from Canada to the mountains in Virginia every year, specifically the mountain proposed for turbine development.

There is an Indiana bat cave within five miles of the turbine site and Apex has not updated any information about the endangered species also threatened by a widespread fungal disease specifically since this project was first proposed. The natural world is not static, it is changing more rapidly than ever due to the increasing threats to habitat. Nonetheless, the commonwealth of Virginia is shamelessly poised to authorize a project for which it has no idea of the actual impacts, even though the Department of Environmental Quality is required to both know what the impacts are going to be and disclose the impacts to the public. The underlying data here is not meaningful because it is old. Mitigation in the form of turbine operation curtailment means nothing without an accurate baseline of the population conditions. The knowledge of the effectiveness of curtailment itself has not been shown.

The American Bird Conservancy (ABC) submitted a comment letter on June 24, which transmitted its prior letters dated Aug. 10, 2020, and Dec. 21, 2021. The ABC argues for current eagle data among other things, providing the scientific and legal information to support their position. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service also weighed in with an electronic mail communication on June 3, 2021, from Thomas W. Wittig, the agency’s North Atlantic-Appalachian Region Eagle Coordinator, directed to Jennie Geiger, the senior environmental permitting manager at Apex. In February 2021, Geiger had advised Mr. Wittig that “No changes have been made to the BBCS [Bird and Bat Conservation Strategy] document that was approved back in 2016.” On June 3, 2021, Mr. Wittig directly challenged Apex’s 2016 assertion that no additional eagle studies were “warranted or permit recommended” because so much had changed in five years. After listing significant factors that influence the agency’s assessment of risk to eagles, Wittig firmly states, “In the context of current management and science, I do not feel that the BBCS provides enough evidence to support that the project is at low risk of taking eagles.” Not enough relevant information.

Wind turbines should be equipped with state-of-the-art fire detection and suppression equipment. The danger and threat of wildfires are frightening, knowing that the industrial turbines can set off a fire at any time, but the effects of climate change on the danger of wildfire have not been considered. Haven’t we advanced beyond industrializing mountaintop habitats and polluting the water resources that flow from the mountains, especially for marginal energy production at a cost so high that the commonwealth effectively bailed out this boondoggle by agreeing to purchase power that no one else, save Virginia taxpayers, would pay for?

If constructing 50- and 60-story-tall industrial machines on top of mountains higher than 3,000 feet in elevation in Virginia was such a good idea, it would be done by now.

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