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1st major solar farm planned near Tri-Cities. Learn more, speak up at local hearing

Aug. 4, 2022 Updated Thu., Aug. 4, 2022 at 9:18 p.m.

By Annette Cary Tri-City Herald

KENNEWICK, Wash. – The public can learn more about the Wautoma Solar Project planned for Benton County and give an opinion about whether the project meets land use rules on Monday.

The Aug. 8 meeting with the Washington state Energy Facility Site Evaluation Council (EFSEC) will be in person in Pasco and also may be attended remotely either online or by phone.

Innergex Renewable Development proposes a 470-megawatt solar generation project coupled with a four-hour battery energy system in a remote area of northwest Benton County, according to EFSEC.

When operating, it would be large enough to power about 70,000 households, Innergex has said.

The company is working on leases for a nearly 7-square-mile site for the project one mile south of Highways 241 and 24.

That’s about 12 miles northeast of Sunnyside, according to its application. Not all of the site would be developed.

It would stretch from the Benton County line with Yakima County on the west to the edge of the Hanford Reach National Monument on the east.

The land is privately owned and is within the county’s Growth Management Act Agricultural District, according to application to the state.

Before December 2021, the project would have required a conditional use permit from the county. However, then a new county ordinance was approved that effectively prohibited large solar projects in that agricultural district.

Innergex says the project is still substantially consistent with the standards of the Benton County Comprehensive Plan. EFSEC has the authority to override local land use regulations, it says

The land now is used as a mix of irrigated agriculture, rangeland, undeveloped land and electrical utility infrastructure.

There could be opportunities for some of the land to continue to also be used for agriculture, according to Innergex in initial presentations to government agencies. That could include grazing sheep or maybe crops in limited areas.

Innergex picked the site for the Wautoma project based on lots of sunshine, open and level land, access to transmission systems with enough capacity for the project and being not too far from urban areas.

If its application to the state is approved by summer 2023, construction could start as soon as early 2024. That would have the initial phase of the project producing electricity by summer 2025 at the earliest.

During construction about 300 to 400 people would be employed, with an additional 100 to 200 workers at peak construction, said Laura O’Neill, environment senior coordinator for Innergex, during presentations this spring.

Over the 30 to 50 years the project operates, it would employ three to four technical workers and have a maintenance contract, Innergex said.

The company, which operates in Canada, France, Chile and the United States, strives to hire contractors and purchase locally, it said.

It will provide stable, long-term revenue to landowners and provide tax revenue for Benton County, including its schools, it said.

Wautoma public hearing

The Aug. 8 meeting and public hearing at the Gjerde Center Building at Columbia Basin College, 2600 N. 20th Ave., Pasco.

An open house is scheduled for 5 to 5:30 p.m., with EFSEC staff available to answer questions.

The meeting starts at 5:30 p.m. with information about the project, followed by a land use consistency hearing starting about an hour later to take public comment.

Those who plan to speak remotely during the meeting or hearing may sign up in advance with EFSEC by phone at 360-664-1345 or email at efsec@efsec.wa.gov.

To attend the meeting remotely call 253-372-2181 and give conference ID 800055371#. To attend it online use the link provided at bit.ly/WautomaSolar.

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