Concerns about wildlife and water issues were the main themes in an environmental impact statement issued Friday by state officials on two adjacent Yakima County solar projects.
The Energy Facility Site Assessment Board released a statement late last week for the proposed High Top and Ostrea solar projects along State Route 24 near the east Yakima County line, opening a 15-day public comment period on the document.
EFSEC director of placement and compliance Ami Hafkemeyer said the statement is part of the state’s approval process and includes input from numerous other state agencies and the Yakama Nation.
The High Top and Ostrea sites each cover about 1,600 acres, with solar panels and other equipment planned on 613 and 908 acres, respectively, almost entirely north of State Route 24, about 20 miles east of Moxee.
Santa Monica, Calif.-based integrated solar energy and storage company Cypress Creek Renewables is seeking approval for two 80-megawatt solar farms. They are separate projects because they will be served by two different transmission lines: PacifiCorp’s Union Gap Midway 230 kV transmission line to High Top and Bonneville Power Authority’s Moxee to Midway 115 kV transmission line to Ostrea.
A June 1 public hearing for the projects raised environmental questions about the solar farms’ impact on wildlife and the area’s scrub ecosystem, both of which were addressed in a Sept. 30 statement.
Habitat and wildlife
The grounds cover hundreds of acres of scrubland, home to wildlife including sage sparrows and Rocky Mountain elk. Evidence of nests for many species, including burrowing owls, ferruginous hawks and peregrine falcons, badgers and ground squirrels, was also seen.
This map from the EFSEC website shows the location of the proposed High Top and Ostrea solar farm sites in eastern Yakima County. Courtesy photo
Previous surveys by the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife have also identified suitable foraging and nesting habitat for migratory birds, with many bird sightings.
The statement requires Cypress Creek Renewables to provide money to a third party determined by Fish and Wildlife or a state agency to purchase other land suitable for in-kind and/or mitigation.
“The applicant will be required to provide compensatory mitigation for remaining habitat impacts,” the statement said. “Vegetation removal and fencing within (the project site) will temporarily and permanently alter nesting, roosting and foraging habitats and potentially impact migrating wildlife.”
The formula for determining compensation includes the average comparable land sales value and a one-time, 15% premium to cover management and administration costs for acquired land.
Hafkemeyer addressed concerns raised by several public comments at an Aug. 8 public information meeting and hearing on land use consistency for the Wautoma Solar Project, located a few miles east of High Top and Ostrea. Several commenters noted that there are five solar farm projects either approved or proposed along a 15-mile stretch of the SR 24 corridor that could have cumulative impacts on migrating elk and other large wildlife.
“If additional projects occur that fence large areas … wildlife movement and connectivity may be further affected,” Hafkemeyer wrote.
“Creating protected wildlife corridors connecting the Yakima Range and Rattlesnake Range from north to south would provide vitally connected key habitats in the Black Rock landscape,” he said. “Additional wildlife corridors should be identified and protected as mitigation for future large, fenced projects in this rural area.”
Water use issues
Another topic covered by the statement is related to water use issues.
Before solar farms can begin operating, a legally available water source capable of supplying up to 202,000 gallons annually must be identified and confirmed by contract or certificate of availability, the statement said. Water for washing solar panels may not contain cleaning solvents, detergents or other additives.
The statement also addresses noise, visual impact and potential disruption to cultural resources.
Hafkemeyer said the 15-day public comment period ended on Oct. 14, just before the next EFSEC monthly meeting scheduled for Oct. 18.
The board may also decide to grant developer Cypress Creek Renewables’ request for an expedited site certification process for High Top and Ostrea. If the request is approved, EFSEC will send a recommendation to the governor on the projects within 60 days.
Comments may be sent by email to [email protected]. Written comments may be submitted by mail to the Energy Mechanism’s Field Assessment Board, PO Box 43172, Olympia, WA 98504-3172
For more information, contact Hafkemeyer at 360-664-1305 or email [email protected].