The Teanaway Solar Reserve LLC hasn’t given up on building one of the largest solar-power arrays in the nation four miles northeast of Cle Elum in the Teanaway River valley.
The company proposed the project in mid-2009 and recently reaffirmed its commitment to pursue the construction and operation of the solar farm. It’s estimated to have a capacity of generating up to 75 megawatts from 400,000 photovoltaic panels spread on 477 acres within a 982-acre parcel owned by American Forest Land Co.
More than 50,000 acres of AFLC lands in the Teanaway are planned to be sold by Sept. 15 to state government for $99 million as part of the Yakima River basin water plan. The sale doesn’t include a 982-acre parcel for the solar farm.
TSR’s corporate agent, Christopher Bayley of Seattle, earlier this week said the land not included in the land sale is the same site permitted by a county land-use board and county commissioners for TSR’s development.
Bayley added that TSR is “currently exploring power purchase agreements with end users” or firms that would benefit from purchasing renewable energy.
Bayley said the steady drop in the price of photovoltaic units has been encouraging for the Teanaway project.
“The decline in panel prices is making solar power more attractive, and TSR hopes to convince a major end user that solar as a small part of their overall package make sense,” Bayley said in emailed statements.
Same project sought
Bayley said the TSR project continues to be “envisioned as presented to the Kittitas County commissioners and permitted.”
He said TSR intends to develop the solar project under the existing, approved permits and development agreement.
David Bowen, president of American Forest Land Co., said there are no target dates for the project to move forward on the ground at this point, but efforts are ongoing to gain contracts from entities wanting to buy power from the project.
TSR received a county permit for the project in August 2010, and county commissioners approved a development agreement with the firm in early October of that same year.
The conditional-use permit is good for five years. The project must be completely finished, according to county development codes, or the permit becomes void.
Company officials may request an extension of the permit, and county code indicates the extension granted can’t be for more than a total of 10 years. A permit extension must clearly spell out the phases and timelines for development.
In its 2009 proposal, TSR said it would also work to attract a solar panel manufacturer to relocate a plant in the Upper County, possibly Cle Elum, to make the panels needed for the TSR project and stimulate business in the county.
Bowen said that’s still a goal for the overall project.
“Yes, we would like to attract a manufacturer to the area, but a power purchase agreement (is) the current focus; we have not set any timelines and will evaluate all options if the time comes,” Bowen said in emailed comments.
Company officials successfully countered two local court challenges and a state forest practices appeal in fall 2010 and in early 2011.
A challenge to the project’s environmental review was mounted by a citizen advocacy group — Citizens’ Alliance for a Rural Teanaway — but was unsuccessful. The group wanted the county to order TSR to do an extensive environmental impact statement.
The group indicated it wasn’t against solar power development but believed the TSR site was not appropriate and not enough environmental assessment had been done.
Neighbor Penny Blackburn of the Flying Horseshoe Ranch on Red Bridge Road said she had serious concerns about the project when it was first proposed, especially about maintaining recreational access to the AFLC land. She said the AFLC lands are regularly used for horse trail riding, a big part of her ranch’s business.
“I’m still concerned. I wanted some kind of agreement we could still use the property if it (the solar farm) was going to be at my back door,” Blackburn said.
Blackburn said she felt the TSR proponents were “steamrolling” the project through the public review process in 2009-11.
“If they try to get it (the project) going again, they will probably face even more opposition,” Blackburn said.
Tax credits not approved
TSR officials in early June 2011 said the project would be delayed because of the state Legislature not acting to pass a bill that would make the project more attractive to power purchasers.
The bill would have doubled the amount of renewable energy credits going to a firm that bought into a solar farm.
The credits help utilities meet government standards for having more renewable energy to supply its power demands. To get the credits, a solar project would have to offer power for sale generated by photovoltaic components made in Washington.