Kittitas County commissioners have unanimously extended a moratorium on commercial renewable energy facilities through July.

A three-month moratorium was originally implemented in January after commissioners denied a permit for a solar farm near Kittitas, mentioning concern about the impact on rural character and agricultural lands in the county. After hearing another dozen solar projects were in the works in the county, commissioners said they wanted a time out to get rules in line.

About 30 people attended a meeting Thursday about the topic, with three people speaking in favor of the moratorium and eight people against.

“I don’t think our code really allowing major alternative energy facilities contemplated that sort of impact,” Commissioner Paul Jewell said. “But I have to say I’m a little torn obviously I’m a supporter of solar energy development. I think most people are. It is a question of where and when and how it is done.”

The moratorium will continue until July 10. The county is working on its 20-year comprehensive plan, which will include regulations outlining the placement of solar panels in Kittitas County, commissioners said.

The moratorium doesn’t apply to residential solar panels on people’s homes.

Against moratorium

Eight people spoke against the moratorium, discussing a variety of issues ranging from concerns about climate change to property rights and diversifying income for farmers. One representative of a solar panel producer also spoke at the meeting.

Howard Lyman, concerned citizen, said the commissioners should discard the six-month moratorium because of the impacts of climate change and a need for more renewable sources of energy.

“The amount of agricultural property that it will take in the valley is minuscule and the fact is, if it doesn’t work out, they can be removed and we have not harmed the farm ability of the ground,” Lyman said.

Solar farms will provide good paying jobs for the community, he said. PSE’s wind farms have brought several employment opportunities to members of Kittitas County.

“If we look at the return to employees at the wind farms right now compared to the city they are some of the highest in the county. So I would recommend to you endorse the future,” Lyman said.

Jeff Brunson, another resident, said he doesn’t believe there is an impact to rural character from solar farms.

“I think it is a good alternative for landowners to keep viable and I think it is way better than houses, because once a house is built it’s not going away,” Brunson said. “I think solar farms, they’re not going to be there forever, but it could revert back to agriculture.”

Homeowners shouldn’t have an obligation to provide a view for their neighbors, he said.

“It’s not a landowner’s job to require the neighbor’s view. They’re not required to supply the view,” Brunson said. “The neighbors they may enjoy it, but they’re not paying for it. So I don’t think they have right to demand it.”

Resident Michael Blue said his focus was the economic impact on farmers.

“A lot of farmers are hurting right now and the agricultural industry often winds up needing to sell parcels of their land and that’s hard to do and it’s not necessarily a solution to keep subdividing and subdividing,” Blue said. “If we can help these farmers do that and generate some more money than maybe we can keep our agricultural industry alive here in Kittitas County.”

Emily Jacobs, a biologist and ecologist, said just like an ecosystem, Kittitas County has to look at a diversity of energy sources. The county shouldn’t be limited to one source of energy.

“Farmers know that to maintain the integrity of their farmland they can’t just have one species they need to have a diversity,” Jacobs said. “So I guess I’m a little confused why we have to choose between one form of energy or another. If we want to protect the environment and future of Kittitas County, why can’t we not use solar and wind?”

Erin Anderson, with TUSO Energy in Seattle, said she worked with the county when it was considering where to place wind farms. She supports an overlay for solar farms similar to what the county did for wind farms.

“I believe a moratorium is unnecessary and inappropriate,” Anderson said. “It’s tough to be a farmer in this valley. A lot of them have been here their entire lives and this is their one asset. And when times are tough, it’s important that they be able to diversify.”

Solar energy benefits the county by providing residents with an alternative energy source that can even protect them during emergencies, she said.

“If you recall during the snowstorm a few years ago, this was one of the only counties that stayed lighted up and why was that? Because we had wind power generating electricity in this county,” Anderson said.

Resident Doug Dicken said he didn’t support the wind farms when they originally moved into the valley, but has since come to accept them. He still wishes the windmills didn’t block the view of Mount Stuart.

“On the private side, the personal side, I’ve been a landowner for a long time and I should be able to do whatever is legal and within the code with my land,” Dicken said. “I’d much rather put solar on my property than split it up and put houses there. I don’t want to do that but when you get old and tired that’s a source of income and you’re seeing it happen all over here.”

For the moratorium

Three people spoke in favor of the moratorium. Patti Clerf is a member of the working group drafting the county’s comprehensive plan. Clerf is a neighbor of the proposed OneEnergy solar farm development near Kittitas.

Clerf said she believes it is critical to protect farmland in Kittitas County. Farmland is a precious resource and disappearing across America.

“It is not just the farmland, it is also the agricultural economy and our heritage,” she said. “Those things shouldn’t be thrown out in the wind just to provide something without thinking about it. We need to analyze our lands and think about what we’ve got and what we need.”

Clerf said she recognized that people felt passionately about solar energy. She asked for time to consider the projects and proposal with the working group developing the comprehensive plan and maybe find better places to locate them.

“And these things sitting on our ag lands, by the time they’re gone they’ve been there for the rest of people’s lives,” she said. “It is not a temporary thing in that regard at all. I’d hate to see our valley turn into glass and steel when we can think about other places.”

Ellensburg resident Stan Blazynski said he doesn’t think solar energy is a practical form of energy generation yet. Windmills generate a lot more electricity than solar panels.

“I think we’re being asked to be a guinea pig in this matter,” he said. “Just one wind farm would replace an entire solar farm. The Bonneville dam generates as much electricity as 429 Iron Horse solar farms. Just to replace the Bonneville dam by solar panels it would take little over 9 percent of the entire Kittitas County farmland.”

Commissioner comments

Commissioner Obie O’Brien said he was still concerned about the impact to rural character from the projects. He wanted time for the county to consider where to place the projects.

“I see no hardship in spending six months to make sure that we address all the issues and all the alternatives,” O’Brien said. “This is not saying no to solar or saying yes to solar. It is saying, ‘I want six months to completely research it and make sure we’re making the right decision.’”

Commissioner Laura Osiadacz said she needed to do further research and study the issue before a decision was made. Agricultural land is a precious resource in the county that needs to be protected.

“This is a very big decision that will impact all of us in Kittitas County and often times rushing into decisions does not lead to the best outcomes,” Osiadacz said. “So I want a few months to invest in researching the best locations where solar facilities will work both for the businesses that want to bring in solar farms into our county, but also work with the landowners.”

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