What happens in the courthouse...

Unless explicitly noted otherwise, this blog represents my own opinions, not those of any organization (like the Kittitas County Democratic Party) that I might be involved with.

Feel free to join the conversation: welcome aboard!

Saturday, July 24, 2010

TSR Update

On August 11 the Board of Adjustment will meet to hear public comments on the TSR conditional use permit. Later, probably this summer but maybe in the fall, the board will vote on whether to issue the permit. I'm a little surprised at the lack of news and discussion about this project, given how various wind projects were received.

This past week I visited with a cognizant official at the County Planning Department and with various citizens, who helped me understand the process. I continue to be impressed with the professionalism of county staff. Meanwhile, I have yet to find any citizens who support the project.

We all have mixed feelings about wind power projects (and I don't think any of us like the way the Kittitas Wind Project looks), but at least the wind does blow here, more than almost any other place in Washington, and not much less than the best wind power locations in the country. The same is just not true for solar energy: Kittitas county -- the entire Northwest, really -- is not competitive when it comes to megawatt solar photovoltaic potential.

Map sources: Washington solar (top), US solar (middle), Washington wind plus transmission lines (bottom).

Please dial back the rhetoric

There's no excuse for the language that's being used in the comments section of the Daily Record's article about the first candidate's forum. Please keep things civil.

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

TSR sources of information

Here are some sites worth looking at (thanks to Julie for thecart.org).

I do want to make it clear that I'm starting this research process with an open mind, and I'm equally prepared to find that the project is worthwhile, or in the wrong place, or that I need more information.

TSR's Facebook page-- Not a great source of information, but they do seem to post news updates fairly regularly. The site is about 4 miles east of Cle Elum, not north as the FB page says.

For a little while TSR had a blog, but then migrated the blog to their current project web page. The web site includes a "fact vs. fiction" page.

Seattle Times article, Feb. 1, 2010: "Proposed solar power plant tangled in many messy questions." I'm going to have to read this one a couple of times.

Forbes.com's report on the DNS determination.

Strategies 360, the strategic positioning (I think that means "PR") firm that seems to be handling everything related to the project. That the project was mentioned by Forbes indicates that S360 knows what they're doing.

A February announcement by TSR said that Potelco, a Sumner, WA utility contractor would be a "contractor and equity partner." FWIW, Potelco is also a client of S360 and is a subsidiary of Houston-based Quanta Services Inc., which has the enviable ticker symbol of PWR. Renewable Energy Corporation, a solar panel/system manufacturer in Moses Lake, is also a S360 client.

There appear to be two Facebook pages of groups expressing concern about TSR: Friends of the Teanaway River Valley and Citizens for a Rural Teanaway.

Citizens for a Rural Teanaway also has a very informative website where I'll be spending more time. Near the top of the page is a suggestion that the project is more suited for sagebrush country because of sagebrush's supposed inferior aesthetics compared to trees. As a person who grew up in sagebrush country, I happen to think sagebrush is beautiful, and dense trees kind of creep me out.

A January 27, 2010 Daily Record article about the Cle Elum City Council's concerns about the project.

Stay tuned....

Sunday, July 18, 2010

Teanaway Solar Reserve

The TSR site is outlined in white.

The Teanaway Solar Reserve project will be in the news off and on for the next few weeks, as the county Department of Community Services has issued a mitigated determination of nonsignificance for the project (July 16 Daily Record article, Kittitas County Community Development page. As I wrote earlier, it seems to me that a project of this size and uniqueness in the area deserves a closer look, but that's not necessarily the way State Environmental Policy Act works (RCW 43.21C.030).

This is an interesting topic for several reasons. The county's mishandling of the well moratorium has led to an unusually difficult economy in the Upper County, and the project promises jobs, at least during the construction phase. On the other hand, there appears to be strong opposition to the project among many Upper County residents.

Over the next week or so I'll be taking a closer look at the project, and talking to various stakeholders in the same way I analyzed the well moratorium issue.

Monday, July 12, 2010

Well moratorium summary

One year ago this week the Department of Ecology imposed a moratorium on well drilling in Upper Kittitas County.

Being an independent, there's no one to tell me what to think about this (or any other) issue, and I don't have any financial interest or ideological bias, so I've had the opportunity to do my own research and reach my own conclusions. In my research, some of which I have mentioned earlier in this blog, I've talked to, among others:
  • a County Commissioner,
  • a well driller,
  • a founder of Aqua Permanente (the organization that initially brought the issue of exempt wells to the attention of the Department of Ecology),
  • the superintendent of one of the two water companies of which my property is a member,
  • owners of property directly affected by the moratorium,
  • construction workers unemployed as a result of the building slowdown in the Upper County.

  • I've also attended public meetings about the issue, gone to a state employment/ economics conference, and read many -- but by no means all -- of the newspaper articles about it. And, of course, I've read as much of the relevant state code (RCW) as possible. I've used all this information in my thinking about the causes and effects of the moratorium, and about how the situation might have been handled differently.

    Briefly, my conclusion is that the well moratorium didn't need to happen, and I certainly would have handled the situation differently and in a way that preserved jobs as much as possible.

    The issue isn't as complicated as it sounds, but there is a lot to explain. Explaining how I reached this conclusion will take some space, so I'll continue on a different page. Please read the entire post first if you decide to comment below.

    Saturday, July 10, 2010

    Employment situation and outlook

    Yesterday I went to the Central Washington 2010 Economic Symposium in Yakima and, interestingly, it gave me still more insight into how we got into the Upper County well moratorium mess, as well as into the entire employment situation in Kittitas County.

    One strong message was that the economy has drastically changed compared to where it was 5 years ago, and the way forward will be very different from the recent past. Kittitas County is worse off than other Central Washington counties in some ways, and better off in other ways. As you might expect, the overall effect was both sobering and encouraging, with some clues about how to go about strengthening Kittitas County's economy.

    Thursday, July 8, 2010

    Ecology meeting with BoCC

    Yesterday, continuing my research on the upper county well moratorium, I went to the meeting between the Board of County Commissioners and Tom Tebb, Director of the Department of Ecology's Yakima office. On the phone from Olympia was Ecology's attorney.

    Everyone seemed to be on their best behavior. I was interested in the tone of the meeting, since the primary election is coming up, and some of the commissioners (especially Mark McClain) have been quoted as having said some fairly intemperate things about this issue.

    The takehome message of the meeting was basically the same as the Daily Record's editorial yesterday: don't spend any money on building unless you have legal access (in addition to practical access) to water.

    Action by the county in the past weeks had complicated the situation, but no one wants a homeowner to have spent money on construction only to find they can't have the water they need. Here's Ecology's web page, "How to Request Water Budget Neutral Determination."

    Sunday, July 4, 2010

    Teanaway Solar Reserve

    One issue that awaiting the new county commissioner is the Teanaway Solar Reserve project, located, according to the project's FaceBook page, 4 miles north of Cle Elum. Here's a fairly comprehensive Yakima Herald-Republic story from October 31, 2009.

    The project is controversial because the Cle Elum area could really use more jobs, but the project site is in the Teanaway River area, which is currently only very lightly developed.

    I regularly do work as a renewable energy consultant, although I don't do professional work on solar photovoltaic (PV) projects. I'm still learning about this project, and I'm sure I'll be writing more about it, but here's some information to start with.

    As shown on the map* above, the TSR site receives less solar radiation than the Puget Sound Energy solar site at Wildhorse. PSE has reportedly decided not to expand the Wildhorse solar project, even though the existing solar panels are already connected to the grid, and the Wildhorse site receives a considerably lower amount of annual precipitation than the TSR area.

    Some areas in south-central Washington are reasonably promising for solar PV projects, but, really, most of the action in the U.S. is much farther south.

    The next step -- due to be taken this summer -- in the process of considering this project is determining whether an environmental impact statement (EIS) will be required. Since the project is being billed as "the largest in the Northwest" (TSR website) and "one of the world's largest" (Yakima Herald-Republic story), it seems pretty obvious that it is unusual, and that strongly suggests that an EIS should be done. Come to think of it, locating a large solar PV project in the forested mountains is probably not something that has ever been done before, anywhere. Clearly special care is needed in considering how to proceed.

    *Click here for map source.

    Saturday, July 3, 2010

    Parade in Cle Elum

    I made a point of talking to a number of voters at the 4th of July parade in Cle Elum today. The economy, water, and development in the Teanaway area were the most common topics. One person told me that he has been directly affected by the moratorium, as he has property he's trying to sell but which doesn't have water at the moment. He felt pretty strongly that the County Commissioners didn't try hard enough to avoid the moratorium.

    Thursday, July 1, 2010

    Talking to a well driller

    Inspired by my visit last week with Commissioner Jewell, I have been working on understanding how the upper county well moratorium mess happened, looking for insights on where to go from here. Everyone does agree that it's a mess, and the effect it has had on the economy is unfortunate at best, tragic in places at worst.

    While spending a few hours reading old newspaper reports about the run-up to the moratorium, I noticed that the name of Jeremy Bach (Bach Drilling has been in the water well drilling business since 1894, and in Kittitas county since 1943) kept coming up. So I gave him a call to see what he had to say.

    Like Commissioner Jewell, Mr. Bach was very gracious and generous with his time, and helped me toward understanding how we got here. Of course -- and I don't think Mr. Bach would mind my pointing this out -- he is in the well drilling business, so it would be unfair to expect him to be neutral on the issue. Still, he has a wealth of knowledge about wells and water, and he has been involved in the process for quite some time. After our conversation he suggested I take a look at the issues section of his web page, too.