Washington Gov. Jay Inslee signed off on Tuusso Energy Inc.'s plans to build the 25-MW Columbia Solar project, agreeing with a recommendation to approve the project made by a panel charged with reviewing major energy facilities in the state.
Tuusso Energy will build five facilities — Camas Solar Project (Columbia), Fumaria Solar Project (Columbia), Penstemon Solar Project (Columbia), Typha Solar Project (Columbia) and Urtica Solar Project (Columbia) — on 232 acres of private farmland near Ellensburg, Wash., in Kittitas County. Western Washington utility Puget Sound Energy Inc. will buy power from the project under a 15-year power purchase agreement.
In an Oct. 17 letter to the chair of the state Energy Facility Site Evaluation Council, Inslee said the panel carefully considered the environmental impacts of the project and its consistency with the land-use plans and ordinances in effect in Kittitas County at the time of the application.
"While I believe that the council has properly considered the project's consistency with local land use plans and ordinances, and I concur with the council's recommendation, I am sympathetic to the perspective that simply meeting the legal requirements of preserving rural landscapes may seem unsatisfactory to some," Inslee said.
The governor, therefore, asked that the council work with Tuusso, a Seattle-headquartered developer, to consider planting additional vegetation around the project to further mitigate visual impacts. The company already plans to plant trees, bushes and other vegetation around the perimeter of the facilities at certain locations to mitigate the visual impact and help preserve the rural landscape.
Inslee clarified that this is just a request and that his approval of the project is not contingent on any changes that might be made in response to his plea.
The project faced opposition from those worried about losing prime agricultural land to solar development. Some also argued that the siting council should have refrained from reviewing the project until Kittitas County lifts its moratorium on accepting applications for large solar projects. The central Washington county in January 2017 set a moratorium on applications for major solar projects until its board of commissioners set regulations to address concerns about impacts to agricultural activities and surrounding land use. That moratorium sent Tuusso Energy to file an application with the state siting council in October 2017. The council in August said Inslee should approve the project.
Tuusso hopes to have the project online in mid-2019.