Solar Company Forges Ahead
by Don Jenkins
U.S. solar company Cypress Creek Renewables won state support Feb. 14 for putting panels on about 3,000 acres in Yakima County and outlined plans for a 2,000-acre project in neighboring Klickitat County.
County commissioners in the neighboring south-central Washington counties have moratoriums on new solar installations. The Energy Facility Site Evaluation Council can override counties.
EFSEC voted unanimously to recommend Gov. Jay Inslee approve the High Top and Ostrea solar projects 20 miles east of Moxee in Yakima County. Most voting members of the council are part of the Inslee administration.
Cypress Creek applied to build the side-by-side High Top and Ostrea solar projects last April. Yakima County commissioners passed their moratorium in July.
EFSEC dismissed the moratorium because it was passed after Cypress Creek filed its application.
Yakima County Commissioner Amanda McKinney said the timing of the moratorium didn't diminish concerns about losing agricultural land and wildlife habitat to solar panels.
"The date (of the moratorium) is irrelevant. The fact remains that it's an inappropriate place," she said. "I believe it's incredibly short-sighted and an abuse of natural resources."
High Top and Ostrea will be built on former cropland dominated by non-native weeds, making it an "ideal" place for a solar installation, according to Cypress Creek.
The Yakima Farm Bureau and North Yakima Conservation District opposed the project.
EFSEC also heard a presentation by Cypress Creek development director Tai Wallace on a proposal to build the Carriger solar installation 2 miles northwest of Goldendale in Klickitat County.
Cypress Creek submitted the application Friday.
Klickitat County commissioners imposed a moratorium on solar installations in January that includes the area where Cypress Creek proposes to put one.
Commissioners will hold a public hearing Feb. 28 on the moratorium. Commissioners enacted the ban without a hearing. Commissioner Dan Christopher, who proposed the moratorium, said he wanted to act quickly before a solar company filed an application.
Cypress Creek has tried to cultivate local support for the project. Spokeswoman Angeli Chandler said Thursday in an email that state oversight will provide the greatest protection to the interests of landowners who would lease the land to Cypress.
"Carriger Solar is pursuing EFSEC permitting to ensure a comprehensive review that lessens the burden on county resources, allowing Klickitat County to remain responsive to the needs of its residents," she said.
Solar and wind companies have been drawn by Washington's law directing utilities to phase out electricity generated by coal and natural gas. Companies can bypass counties by going to EFSEC.
Inslee has said local opposition to green-energy projects threatens to hinder the transition away from fossil fuels and must be overcome.
Lawmakers are considering legislation proposed by Inslee creating a third path for green-energy projects to gain approval. The departments of Commerce and Ecology would be assigned to help companies obtain permits.
Ecology reports it would need to add 24.6 full-time positions to carry out Inslee's proposal. Commerce has not made a projection.
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