Letter to Governor Inslee’s office regarding solar farm siting in Douglas County

Letter to Governor Inslee’s office regarding solar farm siting in Douglas County

Conservation Northwest / Sep 03, 2021 / Protecting Wildlands, Sagelands

Conservation Northwest sends letter to Governor’s office asking to protect endangered species and local community interests in solar farm development proposals.

The following is a letter to state government officials regarding recently proposed solar farm development sites in Douglas County, north-central Washington. As part of our Sagelands Heritage Program, we are working with various state and local stakeholders as renewable energy companies explore the Badger Mountain area for suitable development locations.

You can also read more about this issue in this Wenatchee World article.

September 3, 2021
To: The Office of Governor Inslee
       Kathleen Drew EFSEC Chair

RE: Badger Mountain solar farm development

Conservation Northwest stands with the landowners on Badger Mountain in Douglas County who do not want to see a solar farm development where they live. While we understand the need for solar development as a renewable energy resource, we cannot have industrial-sized solar farms replace highly productive farmland, shrub-steppe habitat critical for wildlife species—including the state endangered sage grouse—and Native American traditional food gathering lands.

Badger Mountain and Douglas County are not acceptable locations for this type and scale of solar power generation. Douglas County is the last remaining stronghold for the endangered sage grouse and the more than 6,000 acre solar development being proposed would wipe out one of the last habitat and breeding (lek) areas they have left in all of Washington.

This position is also held by the Board of Douglas County Commissioners which recently passed Ordinance No. TLS 21-17-47B stating all primary use energy facilities must go through the Energy Facility Site Evaluation Council (EFSEC) to determine appropriate location and mitigation measures. The ordinance also states that facilities shall be located at least seven miles from an urban growth area boundary or habitat associated with sensitive, candidate, Threatened, or Endangered plants or wildlife as identified on state and federal lists.

Biologists have told us that there is no way to produce or protect any habitat of similar value anywhere in Washington to mitigate for the loss of this sage grouse habitat.

In addition, traditional tribal gathering areas would be lost if solar development is allowed in this critical area of shrub-steppe. Scenic values would be devastated, land values would plummet, and extremely valuable Conservation Reserve Program (CRP) acres planted for wildlife would disappear. Millions of dollars have been invested in maintaining the sage grouse population on Badger Mountain and around the nearby community of Mansfield, through partnerships with farmers, ranchers, conservation districts, and the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife. The CRP program is critical for this and many other species of importance which would all vanish if solar farms are approved.

There are plenty of other suitable locations for solar development considering all the hard surfaced areas (roads, canals, roof tops, parking garages, etc.) within our state. If solar must be located on shrub-steppe habitat, a relative value comparison of the land should first be determined. Wildlife, watershed, indigenous and cultural relevance, and local people’s concerns should be compared with alternative sites before deciding on a specific location.

Furthermore, a recently-passed Washington state proviso provides funding for Washington State University to bring a more common-sense approach to solar siting in our state. That proviso will work on solutions to understand the best location for solar but will not begin until June 2022. We are sure that once developed, this solar siting methodology would not ever approve of solar farms on a location such as Badger Mountain considering all that will be lost and with no real true mitigation possible for sage grouse and other species as well as area residents and Indigenous peoples.

We hope the Governor’s office and EFSEC will take this into account and not allow this solar development to proceed, or at a bare minimum to make no decision on this until the solar siting process is in place as determined through the proviso.

Many state government employees, non-governmental organizations, private citizens, County Commissioners, wildlife experts, farmers, ranchers, and both the Yakama Nation and Colville Confederated Tribes do not want to see these lands turn into massive solar farms at the expense of natural resources, threatened and endangered wildlife, traditional indigenous cultural and subsistence values, or valuable farmlands.

We believe in a government process that reacts to and respects the concerns and wishes of citizens who have become educated on the facts of an issue and have made those concerns known.

Thank you,

Jay Kehne
Sagelands Heritage Program Lead
Conservation Northwest

Learn more about our work in the shrub-steppe on our Sagelands Heritage Program webpage.
Douglas County, Washington shrub-steppe. Photo: Ferdi Businger