Solar panels, the latest idea being tossed around for the 78th Street Heritage Farm, may bring a fresh utility to the historic site — but many questions remain.
The Clark County Historic Preservation Commission heard an initial proposal earlier this month from Elemental Energy, a Portland-based solar energy company. The company is proposing a 2-megawatt solar farm on 5 acres of open land at the site.
If the project materializes, it would court low- to moderate-income Clark Public Utilities customers, who would have the option to subscribe to a select number of panels and have the power generated from those panels be credited to their accounts. The concept, called “virtual net metering,” could power 300 homes, according to the proposal.
Kevin Gooley, a solar consultant with Elemental Energy, explained to the preservation commission that the plan is in its infant stages. The company is applying for a grant from the state that would cover up to $1 million of the project cost; the project still requires nods from bodies such as the Clark County Council, Bonneville Power Administration and the utility district.
“This project is in very, very extreme early stages of development,” Gooley said.
In March, the county council approved a master plan for the site, which was founded as a poor farm in the 1870s and includes historic buildings, wetlands and wells.
The master plan leaves space on the property for purposes yet to be determined. Since it was adopted, county staff have worked on a business plan to increase revenue from the site after councilors expressed a desire for the farm to be more financially self-sustaining.
The solar farm could bring in additional revenue in the form of leasing fees. Gooley said that he was approached roughly a year ago about Elemental Energy’s interest in the farm.
The proposal specifies an area near the southern end of the farm — between a historic cemetery to the west, a hill to the north that serves as a viewpoint, Hazel Dell Park to the east and 68th Street to the south. Gooley said the panels would not disrupt views or enjoyment of the surrounding areas, including a planned expansion of the park.
“It’s just, kind of, in this lonely part of this property that isn’t being used at all,” Gooley said.
Sean Denniston, the preservation commission’s chair, warned Gooley that project coordinators would need to be careful digging near the cemetery, as poorly marked graves have been found in surrounding areas in the past. But he supported the general concept.
“I think that the fact that this area is being earmarked for low- and moderate-income households kind of creates an interesting connection to the history of this place,” said Denniston, referencing the site’s first life as a poor farm. “When we’re thinking about compatible uses, I think that’s something that could play in.”
Not everyone agrees, however.
Robert Freed, a member of the Heritage Farm Advisory Board, said he has concerns about whether the project would obstruct the agricultural theme outlined in the master plan.
“While the property isn’t being used now, the advisory board entertains agriculture-related projects on the property,” Freed said. “I don’t see how it fits on the property.”