Inslee OKs Solar Projects in County
by Don Jenkins
High Top will connect to a PacifiCorp transmission line,
while Ostrea will hook up to a Bonneville Power Administration line.
OLYMPIA -- Washington Gov. Jay Inslee has approved side-by-side solar installations in Yakima County, a development county commissioners tried to stop with a moratorium on solar projects.
Inslee planned to announce Monday he had authorized the High Top and Ostrea installations while he was in Yakima to tour the Perry Technical Institute, according to his office.
In a letter to the Energy Facilities Site Evaluation Council, Inslee said he was satisfied that the projects, covering more than 3,000 acres of rangeland, comply with local land-use laws.
He encouraged the developer, California-based Cypress Creek Renewables, to plant vegetation around the solar installations to help preserve the rural landscape.
Cypress Creek applied a year ago to build High Top and Ostrea about 20 miles east of Moxee. More than three months later, county commissioners passed the moratorium.
EFSE, made up mostly of Inslee administration officials, dismissed the moratorium as irrelevant, finding it wasn't a land-use law.
Yakima County Commissioner Amanda McKinney said in an email that Inslee's decision overruled the county's efforts to study and plan for the impacts of solar installations on the ecosystem.
"The same sun that draws in opportunistic corporations to capitalize on subsidies to desecrate our land is also a sun that assures Yakima County and all of Central and Eastern Washington are leaders in food production that feeds our great nation," she said.
The Yakima Farm Bureau and North Yakima Conservation District manager Mike Tobin also opposed the projects, concerned about the loss of farmland and wildlife habit.
Zine and Najiba Badissy, the couple who will lease the property to Cypress Creek, stated in letters to EFSEC that the solar project was a better use of the land than grazing. Lease payments will provide a steady income and diversify the income from their landholdings, they wrote.
The solar panels will be behind a 6-foot fence, topped by another foot of barbed wire, according to Cypress' application. The panels will be supported by steel pilings driven 8 to 10 feet into the ground.
High Top will connect to a PacifiCorp transmission line, while Ostrea will hook up to a Bonneville Power Administration line.
Combined, they will make electricity for 30,000 homes, Cypress Creek claimed in a press release. "Actual output for sites can vary depending on conditions. We're happy to share additional details once the projects are operational," Cypress Creek spokeswoman Angeli Chandler said in an email.
The company applied to EFSEC in February to build a similar-sized solar installation in Klickitat County on land zoned for agriculture.
"We are so proud today to reach this exciting milestone not only for these two projects, but for the commitment Cypress Creek has made to the state of Washington," Cypress Creek CEO Sarah Slusser said in a statement.
EFSEC is also reviewing applications to build a solar installation in Douglas County and three in Benton County, including the Horse Heaven project, which would combine solar panels and windmills.
The Legislature sent a bill to Inslee on April 14 intended to speed up approval of green-energy projects. House Bill 1216 calls on the Department of Ecology to assist companies in getting permits.
Besides wind and solar installations, Ecology will help push through transmission lines, biofuel plants and industries that support the development of green-energy industries. Ecology's assistance will be an alternative to applying to EFSEC or local governments.
The state will add 45.5 employees and spend $19.7 million over two years to carry out the bill, according to a fiscal report.
The bill's other provisions include establishing a state council to come up with other ways to speed-up permits. The Department of Commerce will do a study on how the projects will affect rural areas.
Inslee requested the bill. At the end, it received bipartisan support, though some Republicans were opposed.
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