The ribbon cutting of Washington’s largest solar array, Adams Nielson Solar Farm, drew a crowd of guests ranging from the region’s congressman, the state’s governor and the nearby middle school’s associated student body president.
“It is a glorious day in Adams County, because Adams County has understood solar power for a long, long time,” Governor Jay Inslee said. “It has long harvested photons through the power of photosynthesis to produce the best wheat in the world. This is just another generation of the development of solar power.”
Made up of 81,700 solar panels, the site is estimated to be 10 times larger than the state’s previous largest array. The project was created in collaboration between Avista Utilities, Strata Solar, WSU Energy Program and the Washington Utilities and Transportation Commission and can provide power to Avista’s commercial customers.
With a projected generation capacity of 48,000 megawatt-hours per year, the facility can produce enough electricity to power 4,000 homes, according to a press release, though the power will currently only be available to commercial and business consumers. The same amount of energy would release nearly 40,604 tons of carbon dioxide if produced by traditional fossil fuel generators, according to the press release.
Businesses can purchase that power through Avista’s Solar Select program with an eight-year commitment, limited to 1.2 million kilowatt-hours per year at a rate of 5.3 cents per kilowatt-hour.
The governor was joined in wielding the ribbon cutting’s oversized scissors by Lind-Ritzville Middle School Associated Student Body President Raegen Snider. Avista and Strata Solar jointly funded a $10,000 donation to the neighboring Lind-Ritzville Middle School for a digital reader board, delivering an oversized check to the associated student body.
“These kids are going to be working on new technologies like this, building on this proud tradition of solar energy,” Inslee said. “The future of these kids is symbolized by these solar panels.”
U.S. Rep. Dan Newhouse, R-Washington, praised the region’s diversity of renewable energy sources, including nuclear, biomass, wind, hydro and now solar power.
“With further research and development, we can have the capacity to usher in a new era of energy production in the United States that provides a stable source of energy while also protecting our environment for generations to come,’ Newhouse said.
State Sen. Mark Schoesler, R-Ritzville, credited the county’s management practices for a speedy approval process and complimented Avista for the company’s commitment to low energy costs for its customers.
“They drive a good bargain for their consumers, and I suspect when you look at the price of this unit, they once again drove a good, hard bargain for their customers,” said Schoesler.
Event speakers widely praised the efforts of Adams County Economic Development Director Stephen McFadden, who worked to get the facility located in the county. For his part, McFadden said much of the credit belonged to the entire Economic Development Council and county agencies which worked in unison to quickly move the project forward.
“We have tremendous untapped potential here,” McFadden said. “We’re trying to grow and diversify the county’s economy by bringing in new businesses and job creators. They generate critical new tax base to support all of the things that already exist here.”
Adams County will receive approximately $4 million over the next 20 years in property tax revenues from the array site, according to a press release.
Given the regular conflict between Democrats and Republicans over regulatory methods of shifting the state to renewable energy, Inslee said that job-creating infrastructure projects like the Lind array represent a bipartisan path forward to mitigating the effects of climate change.
“The more that people see that this is a job-creating enterprise, and that both Republicans and Democrats get good jobs when we have these projects, it’s a glimmer of hope that we’ll see more bipartisanship,” Inslee said. “And it’s time for us to follow the science. We know what’s happening: our forests are burning, we know our waters are getting more acidified.”