With the changing employment paradigm in the Northwest – from logging to anything that turns a dollar – Teanaway Solar Reserve LLC’s proposal, to lease 400 acres of clear-cut land for a solar installation from American Forest Land Co., seems like a step in the right direction.
The proposal, first publicly floated in July, sees Teanaway (a consortium of private, unnamed investors) eventually constructing a solar farm comprised of about 400,000 solar photovoltaic (PV) panels producing 75 megawatts of clean, solar electricity, or enough to power about 45,000 homes, according to Teanaway’s Managing Director, Howard Trott.
Ellensburg, Washington-based American Forest Land Co., which reportedly hasn’t sold any lumber since 2006 due to rising transportation costs and falling new home sales, owns 43,000 acres of land across the central portion of Washington State. It’s a tax burden that could be ameliorated by the lease revenue provided by the proposed solar farm, and a direction many West Coast lumber companies would like to pursue. In fact, for many, it’s either that or sell to real estate developers, most of whom are facing the same bleak economy and static housing sales.
Renewable energy seems a better bet, given federal tax incentives under the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act, and the state’s renewable portfolio standard, or RPS, of 15 percent of energy from renewables by 2020.
This RPS, Number 937 (passed in 2006), provides specifically for 3 percent of generation load from renewables by 2012, rising to 15 percent of load by 2020, and applies to all Washington utilities serving more than 25,000 customers. Its passage made Washington the second state in the nation, after Colorado, to pass an RPS by ballot initiative.
Not only does Teanaway want to build a solar farm, employing several hundred temporary construction workers and about 35 permanent solar farm maintenance staff, but it also hopes to attract a solar panel manufacturing firm to the area (Cle Elum, Kittitas County), where unemployment currently hovers above 8 percent.
The best thing about this proposal, assuming Kittitas County officials rule the project non-significant (in environmental terms) is that is does not involve public lands and so needs no federal input, unlike so many proposed (and opposed) Mojave Desert planned solar projects.
If, on the other hand, the county decides the project will have a significant impact, Teanaway will either have to file an EIS (environmental impact statement) or challenge the ruling, but neither of these scenarios is likely, Teanaway’s consultant, Matt Steuerwalt points out, since the land isn’t exactly pristine, given former clear-cutting.
Teanaway is in talks with regional utilities Puget Sound Energy and Bonneville Power to obtain power purchase agreements and transmission access. A county-wide economic impact study has been completed, and Trott assures that the project is fully invested, though no names have been mentioned.
There appears to be mild opposition to the proposal, which can be challenged in Kittitas County Superior Court. Most of the concern stems from the secrecy surrounding the project. Otherwise, county and regional officials see it as a promising way to use idled land which has no essential environmental value.