LIND — Local and State dignitaries attended a ground breaking ceremony in Lind May 24 for what will become Washington’s largest shared commercial solar facility that calls for 81,000 solar panels to be erected over 200 acres.
The project is owned and will be operated by North Carolina-based Strata Solar. Swinerton Renewable Energy out of San Diego, Calif is the general contractor. Crew’s, which includes a lot of local area tradesmen, will begin work on the 28-megawatt solar panel farm in June. It’s the largest infrastructure project in Adams County in the past 20 years.
“We’re excited to have this project here in Lind…gives us hope of future projects that might come,” said Adams County Commissioner John Marshall. “There are nine different tax districts that will benefit from this project. There’ll be temporary jobs and the town of Lind will benefit from retail sales. This will spotlight Adams County and bring new awareness to the resources we have here…the beautiful sunshine and the Columbia River.”
The solar facility’s energy production will be the source of a voluntary solar program called Solar Select.TM The large spread of solar panels has the capability to power 4,000 homes, but the Avista Corporation, which is purchasing the electricity, will sell it to as many as 80 industrial and commercial customers around the State.
Marc Schaffner, renewable energy product manager for Avista said the idea for the project was birthed at the conclusion of a community solar project in the Spokane Valley a little over 18 months ago.
“We began asking what would be our next renewable project we might be able to offer to customers. As we began to talk to our medium to larger commercial customers they really responded positively in a way that caused us to think this type of project may best suited to provide for their needs,” Schaffner said. “They have sustainability goals… they have renewable energy goals and this is a project that closely aligns with goals local, regional and national commercial accounts have, and so it really motivated us to design a program around and then ultimately offer that to our commercial and industrial customers.”
Avista chose Lind as the site of the project because it met specific criteria.
“We looked three things and this was part of our request for proposals,” Schaffner said. “These are the signals we sent to the developers that responded to them. Land availability, proximity to Avista’s infrastructure because there are inner connections that needs to occur, so to economize that is beneficial to all parties involved…even customers. We also looked at solar irradiance and as you heard in the presentation today this is one of the best solar irradiance areas in the State so we really zoned in on it.”
Schaffner said Governor Jay Inslee was also on board with the Adams County location.
“He issued his support in writing and that was really a strong sign of support from the governor’s office. State Legislators and the WSU Energy Program were all important to the process as well,” he said. “It’s important to note that while solar costs have been dropping significantly, there still remains a gap in the cost of a solar kilowatt hours and a utility kilowatt hour. So the involvement of incentive and introduction of the incentive made a huge difference in canceling the delta between the cost of a solar kilowatt hours and the utility kilowatt hour which meant our customers would esentially be on par with their current Avista rate even though the solar kilowatt hour is slightly more. The State energy program that’s in effect was very instrumental to the program.”
A lot of pieces had to be put in place to make this project come together, and in spite of it all, Schaffner said it all went relatively smoothly.
“From concept to this ground breaking ceremony was less than 18 months…the RFP…the power purchase agreement…incentive approval…regulatory approval…everything that has transpired has gone very well,” he said. “And it’s only due to people that are motivated and cooperative. We’ve had a diverse set of contributors come together to make this happen and by the end of summer or early fall we’ll have a project.”
Adams County Economic Director Stephen McFadden played a major role in bringing the project to the County.
“When Avista put the RFP out last year… in February or March…it called for proposals to build this project in Adams County or Clarkston or Lewiston or Rathdrum, Idaho. I found out about that because of our working relationship with Paul Kimmel with Avista… their business development guy in the region and I immediately reached out and said how I can assist in this project coming here,” McFadden said. “There were 16 different solar companies that responded to the RFP with a total of 25 proposals. Many of them came to us for the understanding of things like what are we going to have to pay in taxation… what’s the permitting like… can we get streamline permitting and how long does the conditional use permitting take?
In addition to those questions McFadden said, was a myriad of other things happening as the project was coming together.
“In June we received a letter from Governor Jay Inslee supporting Adams County’s quest to have the project located here rather than anywhere else and that was huge…to have the governor say yes we want Adams County to win this project,” he said. “After that a lot of things began to snowball. On Oct. 4 Lind held a community meeting and was talking with Strata. They were asking about housing, construction management teams, and how to help hire the construction crew. So we hosted and arranged five hiring events including one here in Lind and 85 people showed up to apply for construction jobs. Workforce isn’t easy in this region and so helping them find their crew was major because their crew was going to spend their dollars here in Lind every day that this project is going on.”
When Mayor Paula Bell was asked what this project meant to the Lind she responded; “Excitement is what it means. The whole processes of learning new and watching the old come into something new that is the solar panels and the prospect of possibilities of using a different source other than the normal thought of electricity…it’s just a great thing for Lind to be part of this project.”
Solar power represents just 1 percent of energy in the Northwest. The actual ground breaking of the Lind project is scheduled to take place the second week of June, and be online and producing solar energy for Avista as soon as November. Schaffner said it must up and running no later than mid-December.