Politics & Government

State might get world's biggest solar plant

With its rainy reputation, Washington State doesn’t seem like the place to build the world’s biggest solar photovoltaic power plant.

But the sun shines 300 days a year on the Central Washington town of Cle Elum, where developers have announced plans for a 75-megawatt “solar park” they say could be up and running in about 18 months.

Generous tax breaks and a citizen initiative that requires utilities to get some of their power from renewable sources also add to Washington’s appeal, said Howard Trott, the Kirkland man who directs Teanaway Solar Reserve.

The company has leased 400 acres where the power plant will be built if it gets the OK from Kittitas County – and proves economically viable.

The “solar park” would produce enough electricity for 45,000 homes, and no greenhouse gases, Trott said last week.

“If we can do this in the Pacific Northwest, we are hopeful this will launch other large-scale solar projects around the U.S.,” said Trott, who for 22 years managed investments for Seattle telecom billionaire Craig McCaw.

Trott said McCaw is not backing the project. He would not identify the investors who are putting up more than $100 million to build the plant, except to say that some are local.

“As a privately held company, we are able to move quickly and have the resources to get this done,” he said.

The company also hopes to lure a solar-panel maker to Cle Elum, to produce the 400,000 panels required for the array. The manufacturing plant also could sell solar panels to homeowners, whose interest in the technology is growing as a result of new tax incentives.

Though neither Trott nor his recently formed company has a track record in energy production, their plan was enthusiastically endorsed by a wide range of officials, including Sen. Maria Cantwell, D-Wash., who joined in Thursday’s announcement.

Cantwell worked last year to extend federal tax incentives for clean-energy projects.

“Now, thanks in part to that legislation, we’re seeing this project get off the ground,” she said.

Trott estimates that the project will create hundreds of jobs.

Kittitas County Commissioner Paul Jewell pointed out that alternative-energy projects are already operating in the area, including several wind farms and a small solar plant owned by Puget Sound Energy.

“We’re going to have to look at what impact a solar facility this size will have,” Jewell said. “But projects like this certainly fit well with my vision for the future economy of Kittitas County.”

Washington allows alternative-energy developers to choose between two routes of approval: state or local. Teanaway Solar Resources chose the local option, which means the project will be reviewed by Kittitas County. The county will require an environmental-impact analysis and will hold public hearings on the proposal, Jewell said.