Benton County officials, some residents object to solar project near Yakima County line – Yakima Herald-Republic

A solar project proposed just east of the Benton-Yakima county line has generated considerably more public opposition than similar projects planned nearby in Yakima County.

During an Aug. 8 public information meeting and land use consistency hearing for the Wautoma Solar Project, Energy Facility Site Evaluation Council members heard from more than 20 people with strong opinions on both sides of the solar farm issue.

Comments called the 470-megawatt proposal, planned just across the Yakima County line near the intersection of State Routes 24 and 241, everything from “a huge positive impact for the region” to another mandate benefiting Western Washington residents at the expense of the state’s east side.

“Most of you live in Seattle,” said Jeanie Polehn, of the Benton County Republican Party. “A bunch of windmills, a bunch of solar panels … that’s visual pollution. Would you want that in your backyard? I think not.”

Central Washington family that owns Wautoma solar project site explains benefits of proposal

EFSEC officials received 18 written comments and 23 spoken comments during the Aug. 8 meeting, which was conducted online and in-person at Columbia Basin College in Pasco.

The Wautoma Solar Energy Project would cover 3,000 acres about 12.5 miles northeast of Sunnyside and 1 mile south of the State Route 24 and State Route 241 interchange in western Benton County. It is proposed by Innergex Renewable Energy, a Canadian energy company.

Wautoma solar power 5

A Bonneville Power Administration substation is seen on the northeast portion of the Robert Ranch 5+1 on Tuesday, Aug. 16. The ranch is just west of the Hanford Reach National Monument.

Innergex officials estimate the Wautoma solar project would generate 875 gigawatt hours, enough to power 70,000 Washington state households. Nuno Louzeiro, Innergex’s director of development, noted that Benton County has about 74,000 households.

“The area has substantial solar resources, is adjacent to existing utility infrastructure and is a flat site with relatively few environmental issues,” Louzeiro said of the Robert Ranch 5+1 property, a portion of which would be leased for the solar project.

He noted that solar arrays would cover a maximum of 3,000 acres, just over half the 5,852 acres within the project lease boundary. Portions of the solar panel area could be used for grazing, and any water required for construction and operation is expected to come from existing wells or an off-site municipal source.

Louzeiro said 300 to 400 people would be on the ranch during construction, with three to four full-time employees working there once the solar panels are operational. With a 20- to 22-month construction period, the earliest possible time for the Wautoma solar project to go online would be late 2025, he added.

That date assumes EFSEC approval is granted sometime next year, and several speakers at the public hearing hope the state panel will reject the proposal.

Benton County resident George Penn said the thousands of solar panels would be better suited for the Hanford site, which has been used to generate power for many decades. Penn also was concerned that solar panels are produced in China rather than the United States.

Laurie Ness, of the Tri-Cities, noted that Wautoma is one of five solar energy projects that have been either approved or are proposed along SR 24, between Moxee and the eastern Yakima County line, or just over it.

Other solar energy farms include the state-approved Goose Prairie about 8 miles east of Moxee, the county-approved Black Rock roughly 20 miles east of Moxee, and the proposed High Top and Ostrea projects adjacent to the Black Rock site.

While speakers at the Aug. 8 meeting were told to limit their comments to the Wautoma proposal, Ness said the cumulative effect of the five proposals on the environment and wildlife must be considered.

“This is not the only (solar) project going out here,” Ness said. “Shrub-steppe is the fastest-disappearing habitat in Washington state.”

Others testified that the Wautoma solar project will help the state of Washington meet its Clean Energy Transformation Act goal of converting the state’s energy production to 100% green power in the next two decades.

“This project is a huge positive impact for the region,” Eric Platchett said. “We’re looking to live here (in Benton County) for a long time and use the energy this produces.”

Union members from Benton and Yakima counties testified that they have been building similar solar projects in Oregon, and would enjoy the opportunity to build one closer to home.

“I’m for this project 100%,” said Matt Sears, a Sunnyside resident and member of the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers Local 112 of the Tri-Cities. “Most of us are traveling to do these solar projects elsewhere.”

“Having this project on this side of the (Washington-Oregon) border is fantastic,” added Rylan Grimes, with the IBEW Local 112. “We do a lot of solar projects, and this one would be much closer to our membership in the Yakima Valley and Tri-Cities areas.”

Benton County planning official Michelle Cooke testified that the proposal does not comply with the county’s comprehensive plan. Cooke said solar farms are considered an industrial use, something that is discouraged and restricted within agricultural areas.

In December, Benton County commissioners voted to establish a moratorium on solar and wind projects seeking approval through the county while they consider appropriate areas for such facilities and what the county’s approach to approving them should be. The motion passed despite significant written and verbal testimony against it.

The Wautoma proposal remains in the early stages of EFSEC’s approval process. Findings and conclusions from the land use hearing, a State Environmental Policy Act determination and recommendation on permits must be made by EFSEC officials, with final approval determined by Gov. Jay Inslee.

Source: Google News