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!

Monday, August 30, 2010

Horse park = perfect fit for Kittitas County

I'm pretty sure that, like me, most people who live in the lower county will be surprised to learn just how great a facility the new horse park near Cle Elum is. I wasn't able to go to the Northwest Shootout over the weekend, but I have had a tour. In addition to being extremely well-done, it's a classic example of a one-of-a-kind state facility located centrally here in Kittitas County.

Glenn Beck would vote for me

From FoxNews.com (3rd paragraph from end): "We should be looking for people with ideas. The country is in trouble and I don't see a political solution. I think both parties have sold their souls."

Friday, August 27, 2010

Farmers' Market Tomorrow

I'll be at the Ellensburg Farmers' Market with the last of this variety of peaches. Stop by for a sample and a chat!

Thursday, August 26, 2010

Board of Adjustment on way out?

Peach season is just about over (this weekend is when those in the know about getting really tree-ripe peaches will show up at the orchard), and I'll be more consistent about posting from here on out.

An article in yesterday's Daily Record tells us that the BoCC is thinking of replacing the 5-citizen Board of Adjustment with an attorney to rule on the various things the BoA rules on -- these are outlined in Section 15A.01.040.5 of the County Code.

Two points: (1) this is a really big change, and the BoCC should consider waiting to make a decision until after the new commissioner is sworn in following the election. The outgoing commissioner lost badly in the primary, apparently a reaction to his incompetence.

(2) More importantly, we need more citizen involvement in government, not less. The BoA's duties involve actually exercising judgement, not just making sure all the i's are dotted and the t's crossed in applications. The proposal reported in the paper mentions a Wenatchee attorney as the possible replacement for the citizen board, but the location of the replacement isn't the point.

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Early primary results

We interrupt this issues-oriented blog with preliminary election results. The primary is turning out just about as I expected: Don Williamson and I are splitting the not-Obie vote; I have more votes than Don, so the general election will pit me against Obie. Campaigning with/against (however you say that) Don was a pleasure: he's a good and honorable man.

County-wide results are here, and state-wide results are here.

Photo: results as of 8 pm. There were about 1000 ballots left to count, so things could change.

We now return to regular programming: issues.

Big Solar in California on NPR

Here's a story on NPR this morning, about a very large solar project in the Central Valley of California. Very interesting; according to the story, projects must break ground by the end of the year in order to qualify for federal subsidies. There's a transcript and access to audio at the link.

Photo credit: artist's conception of the Panoche Valley solar project, from NPR story page.

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

TSR Approved

I've just come back from the Board of Adjustment meeting, which ran from 6 pm until after 10 -- I left just before the vote, which appeared to be heading toward approval. It's hard to distill over 4 hours of public meeting into a blog post, but here's a quick try.

It certainly is good that the Upper County will see some jobs during construction. It was refreshing to hear the contractor virtually promise lots of local jobs, after hearing wind farm companies at other meetings basically say that the wouldn't be hiring local people. As for long-term jobs, I have a hard time coming up with 35 job titles for a facility with no moving parts -- it's not like they'll be running three shifts. But I digress.

What I keep coming back to is the poor business case for the project. We're much too far north for reasonable solar energy production. It's a matter of cosmology and physics. What we're seeing is an unintended consequence of government incentives for renewable energy projects. In other kinds of business, if a company makes a mistake like siting a $300+ million project hundreds of miles north of where it should be, the company loses money. In this case, it's us (we?) taxpayers who will be paying for the poor location.

Tax and other incentives are a good tool, but I have seen so much abuse of them in the renewable energy industry that I have to wonder if they really are such a good tool, after all. I'll have to think about this. Meanwhile, on the bright side (no pun!), we can expect to see the Governor and at least one Senator visiting Kittitas County, and that'll be fun.

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

District 3

Note: this post is a bit of election housekeeping. If you're looking for the TSR posts, scroll down, or check out the Blog Archive at the left.

A number of you have contacted me, wondering why the primary ballot you got in the mail doesn't include the opportunity to vote for me. It turns out District 3, which is the area that votes for this County Commissioner seat in the primary, doesn't include as much of Ellensburg as many of us thought. It's especially confusing in the part of town shown on the map. It probably doesn't help that I have a few signs in District 1, but when people who live on busy streets ask, I give them a sign.

There's every reason to believe that you'll be able to vote for me in the general election, which will include the entire county. Meanwhile, you can still call or e-mail your District 3 friends and ask them to vote for me. Thanks for your support!

Sunday, August 8, 2010

TSR Summary II: Conditional Use Considerations

As we have seen in earlier posts, large renewable energy projects are conditional uses in agriculture-20, forest and range, commercial agriculture, and commercial forest zones. The TSR project claims to be the largest in the country, maybe the world, and would cover about 1.5 sections (1.5 square miles) in the eastern foothills of the Cascade Mountains of Washington with solar panels.

Once a project has been properly proposed, it's up to the Board of Adjustment (BoA) to consider and decide whether to allow the project to go forward. The relevant sections of the the County Code include 17.60A (Conditional Uses), especially 17.60A.010 and 17.60A.020, which are short enough to quote below (with a little editing for length; my paraphrasing is in [square brackets]). Chapter 17.96 describes the activities of the BoA itself.
Chapter 17.60A.010 Review Criteria.

The [BoA]...may permit and authorize a conditional use when the following requirements have been met:

1. The [BoA] shall determine that the proposed use is essential or desirable to the public convenience and not [dangerous, annoying or inconsistent with] the character of the surrounding neighborhood.
2. The [BoA] shall determine that the proposed use [will not cost the taxpayers too much, that there is enough infrastructure supporting the project, or that the proposer will supply needed infrastructure, or that it will generate enough economic return to taxpayers to offset costs.]

17.60A.020 Conditions.

1. In permitting such uses the [BoA] may impose in addition to the regulations specified herein, such conditions as it deems necessary to protect the best interests of the surrounding property or neighborhood or the county as a whole.

[2 and 3 aren't very relevant here]
I'm guessing "desirable to the public convenience" is a term of art that means that a project should be beneficial to the county and/or its residents in some way. Likewise, in the Conditions section, conditions can be imposed to make a project more beneficial to the project area or the county as a whole.

So a conditional use project is supposed to be good for the county in some way, good enough to balance anything unpleasant about the project. Since change is painful, practically any project is going to bother someone, so every project had better have at least some benefits.

Here's where we run into one of the challenges of utility-scale renewable energy projects. In business-speak, these projects are high capex, low opex things. That means they cost a lot to build (capital expense), but don't cost much to operate (operating expense). What's more, most of the capital cost is paid outside the county, to manufacturers and to specialized construction crews that travel from job to job. So these projects don't translate into much in the way of jobs.

And here's also where we run into one of my pet peeves about renewable energy projects in Kittitas county and in Eastern Washington in general: out here is where the renewable energy is, and out here is where we get to live with the facilities that harvest the energy, but almost all of the benefits go somewhere else, especially when we're talking about out-of-county landowners.

That's all for now. I'm not going to presume to suggest how I think the BoA should proceed, but it has been helpful to me to think through these issues.

Photo credit: the Jumilla solar farm in Spain, at about 38.48° north latitude -- about the same latitude as Sacramento; Kittitas county is around 47°. It was the largest in the world, at 20 MW, in 2008.

Saturday, August 7, 2010

TSR Summary I: Conditional Use Application

The Teanaway Solar Reserve project highlights one of the challenges of development decisions in any county: what to do with projects that aren't really a good fit for the location, but which owners of the property want to do anyway? What if the project is a really bad fit?

My thinking on this issue took less research than the well moratorium issue (posted July 12), since I know a fair amount about renewable energy. I learned the most about zoning and the County Code as I consulted the following sources:
  • A Kittitas County Office of Community Development official
  • The Strategies 306 representative in Cle Elum
  • A Cle Elum city official
  • The websites and news items listed in my post on July 20
  • The Kittitas County Code
Sorting through information about any project involves deciding which information from supporters and opponents is both factual and relevant, and some things that might seem relevant to supporters or opponents actually aren't relevant when it comes to officially making the land-use decisions.

One thing that is clear is that the site is not excellent, or even very good, for generating solar energy. According to a state solar map, the location receives 3.7-3.8 kW/m2 of solar energy. National solar maps show that there are many locations in the Southwest that receive more than 7 kW/m2. It's hard to find any locations in Washington that are competitive when it comes to solar energy, but here's one example, in Richland. It's in a location that receives 4.1-4.2 kW/m2, and it is a demonstration project, not a utility-scale project. The TSR location seems to have been chosen because it is convenient as a result of the relationships between the various players. Motives are important, but not necessarily relevant when it comes to land use decisions.

What is relevant is how a project relates to the County Code. In this case, the relevant part of the Code is mostly in Title 17 (Zoning), specifically 17.56 (Forest and Range Zone) which is the current zoning of the project site. The Purpose and Intent section of 17.56 says,
The purpose and intent of this zone is to provide for areas of Kittitas County wherein natural resource management is the highest priority and where the subdivision and development of lands for uses and activities incompatible with resource management are discouraged.
I expect "resource management" in the Forest and Range Zone was intended to mean things like, well, forest and rangeland, not solar resources, which wouldn't have been part of the traditional understanding of the phrase back when this part of the Code was written.

For each zoning category, there is a list of uses that are allowed without asking the county's permission, and there is a list of uses that are "conditional," meaning the owner/developer needs to get a conditional use permit before proceeding. Although a major solar farm is very unlike any of the conditional uses listed in 17.56, a later section, 17.61 (Utilities) says that utility developments of various kinds are conditional uses in some zones; TSR is what's called a "major alternative energy facility." That means it's worth at least asking the county's permission to do the project.

Whew. It took a fair amount of writing and reading for us just to get to understanding that submitting a conditional use application is worth a try, but it's interesting to learn how all this works. Tune in next time for more on the application (the actual decision is up to the Board of Adjustment, of course).

Wednesday, August 4, 2010

Thanks, Professor Manweller...

...but we need to correct a few things about his piece in today's Daily Record. Of course I am flattered to have been mentioned in his column at all (I'll add a link to it as soon as I can find one). I am indeed the past leader of a short-lived local Move-On.org group.

Immediately after the "General Betray Us" incident I quit MoveOn. I spelled out the reasons why I quit in an e-mail that I copied as high in the organization's chain of command as I could. My e-mail said, in part,

.... I'll spare you a long list of concerns, but I have lost confidence in MoveOn/OpDem's ability to lead on this issue. The childish "General Betray-us" ad was just one of several things that have caused this, and it came even after I had lost confidence.

Not long after, I had the following e-mail exchange with Professor Manweller, in which I offered to tell the local Republican Party about my concerns with MoveOn. Prof. Manweller's reply comes first, then my initial e-mail to him:

Subject: Re: Thanks and FYI‏
To: Steve Verhey
From: Mathew Manweller (manweller@)
Sent: Sat 9/22/07 7:11 PM
To: Steve Verhey (verheys@hotmail.com)


Thanks for the email. Much appreciated. I think that one of the most significant barriers to a sucessful environmental movement is that people are often divided by process rather than goal. We all agree that a health environment is important, but we fight about how we shoudl achieve it. For me, the CLC is one of those groups that trancends this divide. It is voluntary and incentive based (so conservatives like me will sign on) but it pursues a traditionally liberal issue of environmental protection. If we could only find a "third way" for all the policy issues.

Would be very interested to hear your thoughts on MoveOn.org. and why you left. Let's chat more.

Thanks again for the nice email.


Subject: Thanks and FYI
To Mathew Manweller
From: verheys@hotmail.com
Sent: Sat 9/22/07 12:02 PM
To: Mathew Manweller (manweller@)

Hi Matt,

First, thanks for your performance at the CLC luncheon the other day. Very nice work for a good cause.

Second, it might interest you to know that I've left MoveOn/Operation Democracy. If you're looking for a speaker for a KC Republican Committee meeting one of these days, I'd be happy to explain why.

Best wishes,


Sunday, August 1, 2010

Peaches ready soon

I talked to a voter yesterday who wondered why it's been so long since I updated my blog. It's been a busy week, between campaigning, helping get the peaches ready for harvest (Verhey's Peaches, now with FaceBook page!), and helping Phil at the biodiesel plant.

I'm in charge of managing peach pest control. This year, probably because of the cool spring, insects seem to be less of a problem and fungal diseases seem to be more of a problem. The thunderstorms overnight Friday meant a trip to the farm the next day for fungicide spraying, but as I was filling the sprayer another thunderstorm came. (Note about fungicides, and pesticides in general: over the past few years some great chemicals have become available -- now we have options that include organic-certified and zero-reentry and zero-preharvest products, which is what we use now.)