Conservation

Solar Energy: Siting it Right in the Columbia Basin

A balanced approach to 100% clean electricity

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 2021 legislative session, we worked with a bipartisan group of stakeholders and legislators to revive $500,000 in state funding for a stakeholder-driven process to guide utility-scale solar photovoltaics (PV) development towards areas with the least conflicting values. This funding had been vetoed as a part of Governor Inslee’s pandemic-related budget cuts, but the diligence of advocates from across the state successfully demonstrated to legislators and the Governor how important this process promises to be. 

Washington State University’s Energy Program will be leading the least-conflict project and while the funding won’t be available until July 1, 2022, WSU’s team will begin preliminary outreach this year to ensure an inclusive process. Meanwhile Audubon Washington, our network of chapters, and our conservation partners will continue to monitor what has become a solar boom in the Columbia Plateau, encouraging well-sited renewables and strong mitigation measures. 

To learn more, reach out to Adam Maxwell at adam.maxwell@audubon.org 

What exactly is a “least-conflict” siting process? 

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 PV development 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. 

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