Traveling a a gravel road of switchbacks to a high meadow near the top of a mountain delivers a pastoral yet rugged scene. Above the Eagle Rock Valley, a sound “pings” through the cloudy haze in the view shed below. Jerry Fraley of the Gala area of northern Botetourt County owns thousands of acres of North Mountain. A persistent man and former mine operator from Big Stone Gap, he continues exploring wind energy as a way to help not only America’s energy needs, but also so his family can keep the mountain property in perpetuity after he is gone.
Fraley is an avid hunter and fisherman who has put many acres of land into conservation. However, he is not afraid to use the lands remaining for profit. He has cut timber and plans do more in the future. About five years ago Fraley hoped to attract Nestle Waters to the property. The water tested was not true spring water, so Nestle passed. A couple of years later, he attempted to negotiate a mining deal with General Shale to aid the brick making process. It failed, too. Fast forward to 2009 and Fraley began wind energy exploration.
Months ago the Botetourt County Board of Supervisors told Fraley to remove a wind speed measuring MET tower from BP Wind Energy from the property. BP had initially not applied for the necessary permits to have the tower. When the shortcoming was noticed by their employees, BP’s wind energy division in Charlottesville contacted the county building and zoning department. Then the MET tower came before the planning commission where it was approved and to the Board of Supervisors where it was denied.
Fraley has continued to work with BP Wind Energy, this time out of Houston. On the property now instead of a MET tower, he has a sonar station called “The Secondwind” that reads wind speeds up to 600 feet above the station. “It has been in place since January,” said Fraley, “and we are getting terrific readings.” It makes the familiar ping sound from behind an electric fence set ” to keep out nosy bears which are plentiful,” said Fraley.
“Brandon Nicley and Tim Ward of the county building and zoning both were invited up here to see it event though it does not require a permit,” said Fraley. The Windsound is solar powered and sends information by satellite upload. Fraley said that enough information should be gathered by August 2012 to help make a decision on whether to further pursue the windmills to the next level. “Every day windmills are becoming more compact and energy efficient and they bring in tax revenue to the localities where they are positioned.” said Fraley.
Prior to Fraley’s last attempt to get the MET Tower approved, several citizens reacted in protest. Time and the wind study will tell if the windmill issue returns to Botetourt. The answer is “pinging” in the wind.