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Energy Northwest plans Richland solar center, with storage and training

Kevin Overton, an Energy Northwest plant technician, examines a solar panel at White Bluffs Solar Station, north of Richland. Energy Northwest plans to build a much larger solar station with battery storage and a technician training center near Richland.
Kevin Overton, an Energy Northwest plant technician, examines a solar panel at White Bluffs Solar Station, north of Richland. Energy Northwest plans to build a much larger solar station with battery storage and a technician training center near Richland. Courtesy Energy Northwest

Energy Northwest plans a first-of-a-kind solar power generating and storage facility just north of Richland, thanks to the recent award of a Washington State Clean Energy Fund grant.

It will be the largest industrial-scale solar power plant in the state, said Jim Gaston, Energy Northwest general manager of energy services and development.

Multiple benefits are expected, in addition to producing electricity using renewable energy.

It will be used to demonstrate and research an improved battery system that could make intermittent renewable energy more practical. It could help stabilize Richland city electricity expenses. And it will be used to teach solar and battery technology skills.

“It’s a win-win-win,” said Brad Sawatzke, Energy Northwest chief operating officer.

About $3 million for the new Horn Rapids Solar Storage and Training Center is expected to come from the Clean Energy Fund as details are worked out between the state Department of Commerce and Energy Northwest, one of five utilities to receive money from the fund this year.

The fund, an initiative of Gov. Jay Inslee, supports the development of low-carbon energy technologies to save energy, cut costs, reduce emissions and strengthen the economy with jobs that pay well. Agencies winning the grants must match the money dollar for dollar.

The solar station will be large enough to provide electricity for about 3,200 homes.

Energy Northwest plans a 4-megawatt photovoltaic solar power plant to be built on 17 acres of the nonprofit Regional Education and Training Center on Horn Rapids Road next to the Department of Energy’s HAMMER training center.

The 4 megawatts will be direct current, with actual power in alternating current of 3.2 megawatts, about enough to support 3,200 homes, Gaston said.

Energy Northwest already has a solar demonstration project, in addition to its nuclear, wind and hydroelectric projects operated from its Richland base.

For 14 years, it has operated the White Bluffs Solar Station 10 miles north of Richland to produce 38.7 kilowatts of direct current electricity and helping provide data about converting sunlight to electricity given the latitude and other conditions in the Mid-Columbia.

Coupled with the much larger Horn Rapids solar system will be a type of battery technology developed at Pacific Northwest National Laboratory in Richland.

A vanadium flow battery will store 1 megawatt of electricity to discharge over the course of four hours, making electricity available whether or not the sun is shining on the project’s solar panels.

The project will give PNNL and the University of Washington Clean Energy Institute a working platform for clean energy-related research. Quanta Services/Potelco of Washington also has provided input on technical aspects of the project.

This will give great flexibility (for Richland) to avoid demand charges.

Jim Gaston, Energy Northwest general manager of energy services and development

Energy Northwest is in talks with the city of Richland to purchase electricity, Gaston said.

On rare occasions when the weather is particularly hot or cold, the city exceeds the amount of power allotted to it by the Bonneville Power Administration and must pay demand charges for the extra electricity, he said.

“This will give great flexibility to avoid demand charges,” Gaston said.

The Regional Education and Training Center will use the project to develop a new solar and battery technology training program for the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers, which already has a training site on Horn Rapids Road where the new solar project will be located.

Not only will Mid-Columbia technicians be trained on the technology, but it is expected to attract hundreds of electricians annually to Richland for the training, providing a boost to the Tri-City economy.

Energy Northwest had requested a grant of up to $4 million to be matched with $4 million, but expects to be able to proceed with the full project given an expected award of $3 million with a $3 million match, thanks to the help of First Solar.

First Solar, a Tempe, Ariz., manufacturer of photovoltaic modules designed for large-scale solar power plants, is discussing a donation of half the panels needed, which would reduce costs for the project by about $2 million.

The solar plant could be designed by midsummer 2017 and could be in commercial use by the end of that year.

Annette Cary: 509-582-1533, @HanfordNews

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