WSU: 'Very Small Area' with
by Don Jenkins
Study found only 212,000 acres in the state suitable for solar projects
that would have "low conflicts" with agriculture or conservation.
A Washington State University study identified 6.8 million acres in Eastern Washington as "highly suitable" for solar projects, but only 212,000 of those acres would have "low conflicts" with agriculture or conservation.
The sites with the least conflict are largely near cities, such as Kennewick, Moses Lake, Walla Walla and Yakima. The study didn't consider conflicts over solar installations altering panoramas.
"I would like to have seen some consideration of people's views," said Sen. Judy Warnick, R-Moses Lake. "It does change the landscape."
Legislature funds study
State legislators funded the $500,000 study, directing the WSU Energy Program to catalog where proposed solar projects would have "few, if any disputes," according to the report.
Several counties have adopted moratoriums on new solar developments, concerned about losing their agricultural base to solar projects that take thousands of acres but create few permanent jobs.
Agricultural land owners leasing to energy companies have said the payments will diversify and stabilize their incomes and help them continue to farm.
WSU enlisted advisers from agriculture, conservation groups and the solar industry to evaluate 14.2 million acres over 15 counties in south-central and southeast Washington.
The study produced maps suggesting where solar projects would have low, moderate or high confl icts with farming, ranching or wildlife conservation.
The project's manager, Karen Janowitz of the WSU Energy Program, said conflicts over views were discussed.
"We knew there was a lot of opposition because of the views and because of concerns about the See WSU, community character," she said.
"However, the goal of the project was to create maps, and concerns about views was not something that we could map," she said. "It's people's opinions. How do you map that?"
Could maps steer development?
The maps could steer solar developers to least-conflict areas and then issues such as views could be taken up, she said.
While the study found 6.8 million acres suitable for solar, only a "very small" area has low conflicts with the other three uses, according to the study.
Companies willing to take on "moderate conflict" with farmland or rangeland could choose from 1.6 million acres, according to the study.
Some 3.7 million acres in the 15 counties are suitable for farming, while 3.2 million acres are suitable for ranching. Some 7.1 million acres were identified as having "very high" to "moderately high" conservation value. The WSU study does not change any regulations. Solar companies have favored land zoned for agriculture close to main transmission lines.
The companies can bypass counties by applying to the Energy Facility Site Evaluation Council. EFSEC has disregarded county moratoriums.
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