Update on Two Local Solar Energy Generation Projects

Goose Prairie Solar Energy Generation Project

At the end of 2021, Governor Jay Inslee approved the Goose Prairie Solar Energy Generation Project, based on the approval recommendation of the Washington State Energy Facility Site Evaluation Council (EFSEC). This approval allows OneEnergy Renewables of Seattle to construct an 80 MW solar generation project on 625 acres located 8 miles east of the City of Moxee.

The developer, OneEnergy Renewables is required to pay a fee to either the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife (WDFW) or a third-party conservation organization to mitigate for the project’s impacts to shrubsteppe lands and lands enrolled in the Federal Conservation Reserve Program. Mitigation would likely mean buying and preserving quality shrubsteppe land in the area, with the goals of ensuring no net loss of shrubsteppe acreage and providing wildlife migration corridors.

I submitted timely comments to EFSEC last fall on behalf of our Yakima Valley Audubon Society (YVAS) chapter, generally supporting the development of renewable energy generation projects like this Goose Prairie Solar Energy Project, provided that negative impacts to shrubsteppe and agricultural lands, and to wildlife, are fully mitigated by the developer.

Black Rock Solar Energy Generation Project

Black Rock Solar LLC is currently seeking Conditional Use Permit (CUP) approval from Yakima County to construct its proposed Black Rock Solar Energy Generation Project on approximately 694 acres of land located along Highway 24, about 20 miles east of the City of Moxee. The project developer has modified and reduced the size and scope of its original proposal and has worked with Yakima County and WDFW staff to develop a project with minimal negative impacts to the environment. Some question remains as to whether the mitigation the company is currently offering to make, and that Yakima County is currently requiring on its proposed CUP, will adequately and fully mitigate for the project’s negative impacts to shrubsteppe habitat on the property and to potential wildlife passage corridors on the property and in the area.

Yakima County held a hearing before the hearing examiner on Thursday, May 5, 2022, to receive comments on the county’s proposed Conditional Use Permit for the proposed Black Rock Solar Energy Project. I offered comments on behalf of the Yakima Valley Audubon Society at this hearing, noting that YVAS generally supports the development of renewable energy generation projects, like this Black Rock Solar Energy Project, but that our support is contingent upon the project proponents fully mitigating for negative impacts to shrubsteppe habitat and wildlife.

WDFW comments offered at the hearing indicate WDFW’s concerns that the county’s proposed CUP’s required mitigation is inadequate and doesn’t fully mitigate for the project’s negative impacts to shrubsteppe habitat—a key discussion point is that the county permit does not require the project proponent to mitigate for impacts to a portion of the project land that the proponents are characterizing as ‘grassland’, but which WDFW believes should be classed as shrubsteppe habitat that requires mitigation. An additional WDFW concern is that the proponent proposes to install chain link fence along the project area boundary along Highway 24. WDFW believes this chain link fencing would block wildlife movement through the fence and is not necessary. WDFW prefers a multiple-strand wire fence be required instead, which would allow for birds and other wildlife to navigate through the fence.

I commented that YVAS shares WDFW’s concerns and wants this proposed Black Rock Solar Project to fully mitigate for its negative environmental impacts. I encouraged the project proponents to continue to meet with WDFW staff to come to final agreement on a plan for full mitigation of impacts that satisfies everyone.

Discussions will continue among the Black Rock Solar Project proponents, Yakima County, and WDFW, to resolve these final issues prior to Yakima County’s issuance of its Continual Use Permit and the ultimate construction of this solar energy generation project. The hearings officer will issue his decision on the proposed Black Rock Solar Project CUP within 10 working days after the May 5th hearing or about May 19th, 2022.

The Bigger Picture

Development of renewable energy sources to transition us as quickly as possible away from the burning of fossil fuels to generate energy is imperative. There is a renewable energy generation project boom of sorts going on in eastern Washington and elsewhere around the country and the world. It is entirely possible to develop these new renewable energy generation projects in an environmentally sensitive way, without causing negative impacts to wildlife, shrubsteppe habitats, and other sensitive habitats. We just need to ensure these projects are developed with the proper care and consideration for preventing negative environmental impacts where possible and fully mitigating for unavoidable negative impacts.