Solar Projects Progress
by Don Jenkins
Counties are in a challenging position to influence EFSEC
A Washington state panel has fast-tracked the side-by-side High Top and Ostrea solar projects over the objection of Yakima County commissioners.
The Energy Facility Site Evaluation Council ruled Nov. 15 that the twin solar projects qualify for a quicker approval process, partly because they are consistent with the county's land-use laws.
County commissioners in October passed a six-month moratorium on new solar projects to give the county time to write regulations for siting large solar facilities.
Commissioner Amanda McKinney said Tuesday the county may challenge EFSEC's decision. "We are actively looking at what legal challenges we might have available to us," she said.
Efforts to obtain comment from EFSEC were unsuccessful.
Washington's clean-energy law passed in 2019, setting off a rush to build solar projects near transmission lines in Eastern Washington.
Cypress Creek Renewables, based in California, has applied to EFSEC to build High Top and Ostrea on up to 1,740 acres of rangeland about 28 miles southeast of Yakima.
Both projects would have 80-megawatt capacities. They would connect to Bonneville Power Administration and PacifiCorp transmission lines.
McKinney said she's not opposed to solar power, but she is concerned that EFSEC and the Inslee administration will approve individual solar projects without considering the overall impacts.
"The public deserves to know how their landscape is going to change, potentially," she said. "It doesn't stop at these two little solar farms."
EFSEC, mostly made up of administration officials, recommends energy projects to Gov. Jay Inslee. EFSEC's land-use ruling potentially will save Cypress Creek months, maybe years, in getting a recommendation to the governor.
Counties and EFSEC have been at odds before. Power project developers can bypass counties by applying to EFSEC.
At the United Nations climate summit in Egypt, Inslee said that he will propose expanding EFSEC's staff to speed up reviews of proposals.
"I can guarantee you, I will not be nominated for a Nobel Prize for doing that, but it is clearly necessary," Inslee said.
Counties are in a challenging position to influence EFSEC and Inslee, Washington State Association of Counties policy director Paul Jewell said Tuesday.
"Ultimately, the decision-maker is the governor, and the governor has clearly stated his aspirations to combat climate change," Jewell said.
"I don't think there's a great mystery how these (the High Top and Ostrea) applications will come out," he said.
The land is zoned for agriculture, but the county's land-use law allows "power generation facilities" if they don't conflict with surrounding land uses.
Power projects, however, are "not generally appropriate throughout the zoning district," according to a county planner's letter to Cypress last spring.
In a follow-up letter to EFSEC in early November, county planning official Thomas Carroll said "power generation facilities" was a generic term that could mean any type of energy project.
The county needs time to develop regulations specifically for solar projects and to evaluate how more solar projects would impact the county's agricultural land base, Carroll wrote.
EFSEC passed a resolution stating that High Top and Ostrea are consistent with the county's land-use laws, providing they follow conditions set by EFSEC.
EFSEC canceled an online public hearing Nov. 29 to take comments on what conditions should be imposed.
More information about the project is available at the agency's website, efsec.wa.gov.
Cypress Creek was acquired last year by Stockholm-based equity fund EQT Infrastructure.
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