Wash­ing­ton state’s largest so­lar farm near­ing pro­duc­tion

The News Tribune - - Local - BY BECKY KRAMER

Wash­ing­ton’s largest so­lar farm will be­gin com­mer­cial pro­duc­tion next month in this Columbia Basin town bet­ter known for its an­nual Com­bine De­mo­li­tion Derby.

Nearly 82,000 so­lar pan­els have been in­stalled near Lind’s pi­o­neer-era ceme­tery, re­sem­bling a mi­rage on the dusty land­scape. Sen­sors ad­just the an­gle of the flat, blue pan­els through­out the day, al­low­ing them to max­i­mize the cap­ture of so­lar rays.

“In a re­ally creative way, it’s an ex­pan­sion of our agri­cul­tural in­dus­try be­cause it’s har­vest­ing the sun,” said Stephen McFad­den, the eco­nomic de­vel­op­ment direc­tor for

Adams County.

The so­lar farm’s out­put will help a Spokane Val­ley man­u­fac­turer 85 miles to the east move to all re­new­able en­ergy.

Hot­start signed an eight-year con­tract to pur­chase so­lar power from Avista Corp. The Spokane-based util­ity is buy­ing the elec­tric­ity from the fa­cil­ity’s owner – Strata So­lar of North Carolina – and re­selling it to 60 large com­mer­cial and in­dus­trial cus­tomers.

Hot­start will buy 6 per­cent of the so­lar farm’s out­put, about 1.2 megawatt hours of elec­tric­ity per year. That’s the max­i­mum al­lowed un­der Avista’s pro­gram, and it just hap­pens to mir­ror Hot­start’s an­nual elec­tric load.

“We hit the sweet spot on that,” said Terry Judge, Hot­start’s chief ex­ec­u­tive of­fi­cer. “We’ll be 100 per­cent so­lar.”

Hot­start makes pre­heat­ing sys­tems to keep large en­gines – which don’t start eas­ily in the cold – above 100 de­grees. The com­pany’s prod­ucts are sold in 180 coun­tries.

Us­ing re­new­able en­ergy is “an­other way we can make the world a bet­ter place,” Judge said. “It’s cleaner air for our chil­dren and grand­chil­dren.”

That’s a sell­ing point for some Hot­start cus­tomers, who pre­fer prod­ucts man­u­fac­tured with all re­new­able en­ergy, Judge said.

STCU also signed an eight-year con­tract to buy so­lar elec­tric­ity from the Lind fa­cil­ity.

The credit union is buy­ing roughly enough so­lar power to off­set elec­tric use for a build­ing at STCU’s Lib­erty Lake head­quar­ters. Data servers run­ning the elec­tronic fi­nan­cial sys­tem are housed there, so the build­ing is a larger power user, said Richard Bre­it­en­berg, STCU’s direc­tor of fa­cil­i­ties and sup­port ser­vices.

With the help of a Wash­ing­ton state in­cen­tive, Avista is sell­ing the elec­tric­ity at the same price as other rates for large com­mer­cial users. The in­cen­tive is val­ued at about $9 mil­lion over the eight-year con­tract.

At 28 megawatts, the Lind so­lar farm is the largest to date in Wash­ing­ton. How­ever, an even larger so­lar farm has been pro­posed for Adams County.

In­no­va­tive So­lar Sys­tems LLC of Ashville, North Carolina, has pro­posed a 40-megawatt so­lar farm about 10 miles north­east of Ritzville.

In Septem­ber, In­no­va­tive So­lar re­ceived a con­di­tional use per­mit to build a so­lar farm on 300 acres. The com­pany is work­ing to se­cure a power pur­chase con­tract with a util­ity, said Mike Hill, land de­vel­op­ment as­so­ciate.

“We love the idea there are other so­lar com­pa­nies look­ing at Adams County,” said McFad­den, the eco­nomic de­vel­op­ment direc­tor.

Parts of Wash­ing­ton’s cen­tral Columbia Basin have high po­ten­tial for so­lar de­vel­op­ment, ac­cord­ing to the Na­tional Re­new­able En­ergy Lab in Golden, Colorado, which eval­u­ates ar­eas based on weather, at­mo­spheric con­di­tions and hours of day­light.

In Cen­tral Wash­ing­ton’s Kit­ti­tas County, the re­cent ap­proval of a 25-megawatt so­lar project on ir­ri­gated agri­cul­tural lands sparked con­tro­versy. McFad­den, how­ever, said he’s heard “zero op­po­si­tion” to the two so­lar pro­jects in Adams County, nei­ther of which is on ground that was ac­tively farmed.

The Lind so­lar farm will gen­er­ate about $200,000 an­nu­ally for lo­cal tax­ing dis­tricts, McFad­den said. Con­struc­tion of the fa­cil­ity em­ployed 150 work­ers through the sum­mer and early fall, pro­vid­ing a short-term eco­nomic boost to the area, he said. About 25 per­cent of the work­ers were hired lo­cally.

“Th­ese are peo­ple who were rent­ing homes in Ritzville and Lind,” McFad­den said. “They were spend­ing their pay­checks in our restau­rants and stores.”

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