Thursday, March 4, 2021
March 4, 2021

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In Our View: Heritage Farm solar panels deserve a look

The Columbian
Published:

A proposal to place solar panels on a portion of the 78th Street Heritage Farm warrants scrutiny, but the idea is promising.

While reliable, renewable hydropower accounts for about two-thirds of energy production in Washington, the state must continue to increase its capacity for solar and wind power. The threats posed by climate change dictate that all options be explored for reducing our reliance on fossil fuels.

The abundance of hydropower in the Northwest has overshadowed progress in developing additional renewable energy, but the economic potential must not be ignored. A transition from coal-fired plants to clean energy already is taking place in the United States, and its continuation appears inevitable.

As Forbes wrote last year: “Multiple states and utilities are setting 100 percent clean energy goals, creating new demand for workers to build solar panels and wind turbines. Planning for the inevitable coal-to-clean economic transition can create new economic opportunities in every corner of the country – and some forward-thinking policymakers are already heeding this lesson.”

The environmental benefits of clean energy are obvious. Now, attention must shift to the economic benefits and a recognition that clean energy industries employ three times as many Americans as fossil fuel industries.

That represents the broad view of discussions about the growth of solar energy in the United States. But when a proposal would bring solar panels to an area such as Heritage Farm, the issue becomes more localized.

Portland-based Elemental Energy has proposed a 2-megawatt solar farm on 5 acres of open land at the site. The idea is in its infancy and would require approval from the Clark County Council, the Bonneville Power Administration and Clark Public Utilities, and Elemental Energy is seeking a $1 million grant from the state to help fund the project.

The solar farm 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. According to the proposal, the farm could power 300 homes.

In a county with nearly 500,000 people, that would have a minor impact. But the question is whether it is the best possible use of the land.

In March, the Clark County Council approved a master plan for the site, leaving space on the property for purposes yet to be determined. County officials also are seeking ways to generate revenue and make the site self-sustaining. In addition to solar-energy production, revenue from land leases would be a benefit.

“It’s just, kind of, in this lonely part of this property that isn’t being used at all,” Kevin Gooley of Elemental Energy said.

Yet questions remain. 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.”

That is a valid concern. But in considering the solar farm, the question is whether there are any better ideas. If so, county officials should be open to them.

Until then, the 78th Street Heritage Farm serves as an example of the potential for increasing solar power production and an example of how alternative energy should be an option whenever possible.

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