Yakima County approves permit for solar farm project that could supply power to 20,000 homes

Yakima County Moxee Solar Power Farm
Credit: Emily Goodell, KAPP-KVEW

MOXEE, Wash. — A new solar energy project is moving forward in Yakima County that could potentially supply power to 20,000 homes.

Global renewable energy company BayWa r.e. has been issued a conditional use permit from the Yakima County hearing examiner allowing them to take the next steps in building a solar farm about 20 miles east of Moxee.

The existing land is being used for agricultural purposes, but Black Rock Solar Energy Project officials said they’re working with property owners to mitigate any impacts — including one who has a lot of sheep.

“We’re trying to make this potentially our pilot project for sheep grazing,” development director Brandon Reinhardt said. “Basically, the sheep would act like little lawn mowers.”

Reinhardt said the plan is to allow space for the sheep to move around the solar arrays and continue grazing as usual. He said the studies they’ve conducted so far show the move might save them money on landscaping.

“This has been done in other parts of the country by other companies, but this will be sort of new territory for us and we’re pretty excited about it,” Reinhardt said.

Reinhardt said they expect the project will generate an additional $18 million in tax revenue as it operates over the next 30 to 35 years. He said it will also create about 300 short-term jobs during construction.

“Then, long-term, it’ll create two full-time roles where these people are on site, sort of managing the facility, making sure that it’s operating as efficiently as possible and hitting all of its energy output goals,” Reinhardt said.

While the solar farm will be capable of supplying electricity to 20,000 homes, Reinhardt said there’s no determination yet on what the power will be used for because it depends on who purchases it.

“It could be a private company that wants to use the power for their own purposes, whether that’s a data center, or something similar,” Reinhardt said. “If it was to a utility company, then essentially they would buy the power from us and then sort of resell it to the customers at the residential and commercial level.”

The company began the lengthy process of bringing a solar farm to Yakima County back in 2018 and chose to settle their project in the area east of Moxee, near the

“Yakima was one of the best areas for what we call solar resource, which is like essentially the strength of the sun,” Reinhardt said.  …In this particular case, there’s also a high voltage transmission line that goes through the property.”

Reinhardt said they plan to start construction on the project in 2023 and hopefully have the facility operating by the end of 2024.

Yakima County Planning Section Manager Jason Earles said the project went through a comprehensive process before receiving a permit, which included an environmental review and a public hearing.

“We did send out notices for all the surrounding property owners and we also sent a notice out to the different agencies,” Earles said, adding that the letters they received from neighbors and property owners were all in support of the project.

Earles said the Washington State Department of Fish and Wildlife brought up concerns about wildlife corridors and habitat protection. He said changes were made to the SEPA determination to address some of those issues.

According to Earles, there are no operational solar farms in Yakima County. He said while Black Rock Solar Energy project is the only solar farm that has applied through the county, there are several others that have gone through a similar application process at the state level.

“Right now, we’re within the appeal period, so the decision or examiner’s decision could be appealed,” Earles said.

However, Earles said if no appeal is made, they will have the authorization to move forward with their project, “provided they meet the conditions of approval and stay within the confines of them.”

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