French Firm to Build State's Largest
by Annette Cary
The project will be a competitive source of renewable energy, especially given the downward trend in the cost of solar technology"
-- Romain Desrousseaux, Neoen deputy chief executive
Site studies have begun to build the largest utility scale solar power project in Washington north of Richland.
The 20-megawatt solar project will be built by French company Neoen on part of 300 acres of former Hanford nuclear reservation land. It should be completed in 2019, according to the Tri-City Development Council.
"The is exactly the type of project we envisioned when we began our effort to transfer Department of Energy land to the community for economic development," said Carl Adrian, TRIDEC president.
"The project further solidifies the Tri-Cities' position as the energy hub for Washington state and confirms that the decision to transfer the land from DOE was correct," he said.
The unused Hanford land was transferred in 2015 from the Department of Energy to TRIDEC, which is designated by the federal government as the community reuse agency for unneeded Hanford property. TRIDEC transferred the land to Energy Northwest with the understanding that about 100 acres would be available for a solar energy project.
TRIDEC has been working with Neoen since 2014.
On Saturday, geotechnical work began on the property, which is two to three miles north of Richland. The parcel is just northwest of the Hanford 300 Area and south of the Columbia Generating Station nuclear power plant operated by Energy Northwest.
The work will determine the best place on the transferred property to build the plant.
Neoen has hired Energy Northwest for consulting and marketing support. The French company is looking for customers for the solar electricity from the project.
Energy Northwest already has a solar demonstration project, the 38.7-kilowatt White Bluffs Solar Station, which is about seven miles north of the site of the Neoen project. Energy Northwest also announced plans last year to build a 4-megawatt solar power generating and storage facility on Horn Rapids Road north of Richland, which is unrelated to the Neoen project.
Neoen has an initial lease option agreement with Energy Northwest to lease up to 150 acres of the 300-acre parcel. The option is for $15,750 a year until Neoen is prepared to build and enter into a lease.
The lease will be for $60 per acre each year plus a tenth of a cent per kilowatt hour generated annually, an estimated $26,000 per year.
The money will go into Energy Northwest's business development fund to be used for future energy project development. Energy Northwest is a Washington consortium of utilities and owns and operates nuclear, wind, hydroelectic and solar projects.
No specific information on jobs has been released for the Neoen solar project, but TRIDEC anticipates that there should be some initial construction jobs.
Part of the project's value will be in adding to the Tri-Cities image as an energy hub, Adrian said.
"It helps solidify our 'brand' in the energy sector," he said.
Already 40 percent of the state's electricity is produced within 100 miles of the Tri-Cities, including nuclear, hydro and wind production. In addition, Areva's Richland plant produces nuclear fuel that supplies about 5 percent of U.S. electricity.
DOE transferred an additional 1,341 acres of unneeded Hanford land north of Richland to TRIDEC for economic development. The land then was passed on to the city of Richland and Port of Benton, which have been working on a master plan for possible parcels, roads and utilities.
The land is planned for industrial development, with a goal of attracting industries that would replace Hanford nuclear reservation jobs as some environmental cleanup work is completed.
Neoen's project north of Richland would be its first in North America.
"The project will be a competitive source of renewable energy, especially given the downward trend in the cost of solar technology," said Romain Desrousseaux, Neoen deputy chief executive. "It is also the first step in Neoen's long-term strategy in the U.S."
Neoen, founded in 2008, is an independent supplier of electricity from renewable energy, including solar, wind and biomass. It has projects in France, Australia, El Salvador, Mexico, Zambia, Mozambique, Jordan, Jamaica, Portugal and Ireland.
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