Solar panels on farmland stir fight in central washington the spokesman-review gas near me app


As proposed by Seattle-based Tuusso Energy, the photovoltaic panels would spread across more than 80 of the Brunsons’ 1,000 acres, and another 120 acres owned by three other Ellensburg-area landowners. If approved, this would be one of the first solar farms to come on line in Washington – and for some, an unwelcome precedent for turning crop land over to solar-energy production.

In this case, the solar panels would sit on less than a half percent of Kittitas County’s 180,000 farm acres. Still, opponents worry that a project here, combined with a rising demand for clean energy such as solar, will swallow up whole swaths of agricultural land that produce the crops and livestock that underpin the county economy.

They have asked the state to override the county moratorium, and on April 17 they achieved initial success when the Energy Facility Site Evaluation Council approved an expedited review of the Tuusso project. Council members now have two months to make a recommendation to Gov. Jay Inslee, who has the final say.

“The process really takes away the voice of the local government and the local citizens and local control of what the land is going to look like,” said Laura Osiadacz, a county commissioner. “It is a very disappointing decision for the residents of Kittitas County.” A broader clash

The Kittitas County clash is part of a broader battle over solar siting, one that has escalated in recent years as developers fan out across the country in search of prime locations. Their projects range from a few dozen acres to mega-solar farms like Topaz, which spreads over 6,400 acres in San Luis Obispo County in California.

Developers also have benefited from huge declines in the prices of photovoltaic panels, which use silicon, an element found in sand, to convert sunlight into electricity. From 2010 through 2017, the average project costs plummeted by about 80 percent, according to the National Renewable Energy Laboratory. In 2017, these solar projects generated about 2 percent of the nation’s electricity, according to the Energy Information Administration.

In North Carolina’s Currituck County, where two projects have been placed on 2,260 acres of farm land, neighbors complained about noise and dust during construction and poor maintenance that allowed weeds to sprout among the solar panels. These issues, along with concerns about farmland loss, helped persuade county commissioners in February 2017 to ban new solar developments, according to Laurie LoCicero, the county planning director. Washington lags in solar boom

Then-Gov. Christine Gregoire in 2007 approved the Horizon Wind project that had been turned down by county commissioners. In a legal challenges, plaintiffs argued that the turbines, visible for miles, would spoil a scenic view shed and violate local ordinances, but the state Supreme Court allowed the project to go forward.

Unless PSE and other utilities venture farther afield to prime wind states like Montana, the future here is likely to include a lot more solar power. In a recent planning document, PSE tagged Eastern Washington solar as the cheapest renewable option, and forecast buying up to 266 megawatts of power from solar producers by 2023.

The project is estimated to cost $40 million to $50 million, and is made possible by a 1978 federal law — the Public Utility Regulatory Policies Act — that requires PSE to buy the electricity at a price equal to or less than the cost from a traditional power plant.

Tuusso did initially look at such land but could find no suitable sites with the three-phase transmission network in place, according to Evans. It would be possible for a large solar project to build a three-transmission network in these out-of-the-way locations. But for a smaller project, such as Columbia Solar, Evans says such development would add millions of dollars in costs and scuttle profitability.

But even in this farm belt, the transmission system is limited, and would largely be tapped out once photovoltaic panels were placed on some 400 acres of farmland, according to Evans. Thus, he said concerns that county farmland would be overrun by solar photovoltaic panels are unjustified.