In 2019 Audubon Washington helped pass the Clean Energy Transformation Act (CETA) and concluded our six-year songbird monitoring program in the sagebrush sea. Since then we’ve been looking to leverage our science to protect this important habitat as our state builds the solar energy needed to reach 100% clean electricity.
In the 2020 legislative session, we worked with a bipartisan group of stakeholders and legislators to secure $500,000 in state funding for a stakeholder-driven process to guide utility-scale solar development towards areas with the least conflicting values. Unfortunately, Covid-related budget cuts defunded this important project.
Audubon Washington and our partners are now exploring private-sector funding alternatives to ensure that future solar siting decisions are driven by stakeholder preferences and a desire to protect Washington’s unique landscape.
Thankfully, we have good models for how to get this done.
In 2015, California tackled these same issues head-on in the agriculturally productive San Joaquin Valley. Berkeley Law’s Center for Law, Energy and the Environment (CLEE) partnered with Conservation Biology Institute (CBI) and a third-party facilitator to identify “least-conflict” areas for solar PVdevelopment in the eight-county San Joaquin Valley region.
The project team convened agricultural, ranching, conservation, and utility-scale solar PV development stakeholders, tribes, and key agencies. Through the facilitated process, participants identified the areas of least conflict for the development of solar PV. That data was used to inform maps that developers now use to make rational, community-informed decisions about where to propose new utility-scale solar PV projects and where projects might be permitted more efficiently without opposition or conflicts.
Least-conflict siting in Washington state: where we stand
With the declaration of a global pandemic at the end of the 2020 legislative session, Governor Inslee vetoed a number of important spending priorities. Unfortunately, a $500,000 budget proviso dedicated to funding a least-conflict solar siting process in the Columbia Basin was nixed.