Solar energy at TRAC in Pasco may prove to be a winning investment if officials can take full advantage of the potential.
Franklin County is looking at two proposals, one that would provide solar-heated water and another that would generate electricity.
A great partnership could be formed by using either project as a lab for students in the new solar certification program at Columbia Basin College.
We've read about these students in action and, once again, CBC impresses us by continuing to provide diverse educational opportunities in tough economic times.
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In the grand scheme of things, neither project would make a big dent in TRAC's annual operating budget. However, by providing training opportunities for CBC and helping cement the Mid-Columbia's reputation as an energy hub, the proposals could make sense.
The hot water project would be on the pavilion, home to an ice rink, and used for the building's Zamboni and ventilation systems. It would produce about 50,000 gallons of hot water a day, and could eliminate costs of $40,000 per year for natural gas.
When the ice rink isn't operating during spring and summer months, the hot water could be used in TRAC's other buildings.
A grant, which CBC has applied for and would cover tuition for the students in the class, could help underwrite the cost of the $250,000 project.
Even without that money, Silk Road Environmental is willing to put the panels in without any money upfront. The company would make its money from savings in Franklin County's energy bill.
The other project would bring in community investors to pay for a solar panel system at TRAC under a lease with the county. Franklin County would buy the solar power at a lower rate than it could get from Franklin PUD.
The state community solar program would be used to pay for the project, according to the proposal from Tangerine Power. Investors would have to be Franklin PUD customers and would be paid back with federal and state money.
The county would have an option to buy out the project in 2020. Until then, Tangerine Power would be responsible for the system, which would produce enough power for about three homes per year.
That's obviously not enough to cover TRAC's power needs, but if it works, the program could grow in the future. And that's important as our state searches for new ways to generate sustainable energy.
Solar projects are catching on at exhibition facilities and fairgrounds across the nation, with panels going up on rooftops of large buildings from Colorado to Oregon.
The Alameda County Fairgrounds in California is the largest nonprofit generator of solar power in the nation, creating about one megawatt, or enough to power 1,000 homes.
Even with our sketchy weather this spring, the potential is certainly there for solar power in the Tri-Cities. The panels proposed at TRAC would work in temperatures up to minus30 degrees, only being knocked out by snow or heavy rains.
Franklin County is awaiting word on multiple grant applications that could bring solar energy to TRAC.
Both projects sound like great ideas and a nice way to work with CBC students who are learning to become solar energy technicians and would expand the horizon for Tri-City energy production.