Grant Co. generating interest as solar farm location – Columbia Basin Herald

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EPHRATA — With solar power touted as an important part of meeting future energy needs, Grant County is getting increasing interest from companies proposing to build solar generating facilities. Grant County Deputy Development Director Jim Anderson-Cook said that, currently, county officials are working on eight proposed projects. All of them are between Royal City and Coulee City, most in the Quincy-Ephrata area.

“We are getting a lot of attention,” Anderson-Cook said. “The Columbia Plateau in general is getting a lot of attention.”

Some of that is generated by a report from the Washington State University Energy Program, which surveyed land that might be suitable for solar facilities. 

“The Least Conflict Solar Siting Project asks the question: Where can utility-scale solar be developed in the Columbia Plateau region while also ensuring that important natural habitat, productive farmland and ranchlands, and tribal rights and cultural resources are protected?” asked the report, issued in June 2023.

Companies are looking for land that’s not currently irrigated farmland or otherwise developed but has been used in the past. Regulations require developers to take access to electrical transmission capability into account when building a solar facility.

“We happen to have a larger percentage of those lands than surrounding counties,” Anderson-Cook said.

Grant County provides opportunities to hook up to Grant County PUD or Bonneville Power Administration transmission lines.

Anderson-Cook gave an update to Grant County Commissioners Tuesday and said some but not all of the projects would focus on supplying power to county customers. 

Grant County had a moratorium on solar facilities but removed it once regulations governing their siting and development were established. Anderson-Cook said that allows the county to keep control over the process. The state has established a commission that can recommend that state officials override local regulations and allow a solar facility to be built. 

A county or other jurisdiction can establish a moratorium, “but it’s not forever,” he said.

State officials can go ahead regardless of the local action, which happened in Yakima County, he said. 

“We prefer to have processes in place rather than let the state override,” he said.  

None of the eight projects currently in development has started construction yet, Anderson-Cook said. All but one are in various stages of the regulatory process. Quincy Solar, northwest of Moses Lake, was approved in 2020 but its owners haven’t applied for a construction permit yet.

All of the projects are located on leased land. 

Of the eight, one is located east of Coulee City, one is east of Soap Lake, three are north of Quincy, two are northwest of Moses Lake and one is south of Royal City. Altogether the projects would cover about 18,800 acres and produce about 1,720 megawatts of electricity. Most will have battery storage on site. 

All but one would be located on property designated as dryland or rangeland, rural resource land or rural remote areas. The owners of AES Solar near Moses Lake are interested in changing the land use designation of the proposed site. The land is zoned rural residential and the project wouldn’t be allowed under that zoning.

Most of the parcels don’t have much, if any, development or farmland around them. Anderson-Cook said that’s one of the characteristics that make them suitable for solar farm development. 

A solar array takes a lot of land. The smallest site proposes 607 acres for RAI Energy Solar, northeast of Quincy. The biggest is Appledale Solar, 4,916 acres at the Grant-Douglas county line. Anderson-Cook said on average, the land needed for the actual solar panels is about 53% of the total parcel. 

The developers of Quincy Valley Solar, also east of Quincy, have proposed making their project multiple-use and grazing sheep on the property.  

The county regulations prohibit development on land that’s in crop production and under irrigation.  

“Irrigated ag land is absolutely off limits,” Anderson-Cook said. “That’s a no-go.”

Cheryl Schweizer can be reached via email at [email protected].

    Eight solar generation facilities have been proposed in Grant County, and are in various stages of the permitting process.

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