Tri-Cities to get $10M solar energy project. Workers nationwide will train here

VIDEO: Community solar projects take off in Washington

Community solar projects generate excitement in Washington. Peninsula Light Co. and Tacoma Public Utilities build projects for customers to take advantage of state incentives.
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Community solar projects generate excitement in Washington. Peninsula Light Co. and Tacoma Public Utilities build projects for customers to take advantage of state incentives.

Energy Northwest is moving forward with plans for a 20-acre solar project in the Horn Rapids area just north of Richland.

It’s expected to be a one-of-a-kind project that combines solar energy generation with battery storage and a center to train solar technicians from across the nation.

Ground will be broken next fall with commercial operation planned by 2020, after the Energy Northwest Board agreed at a meeting Thursday to proceed with the project.

Energy Northwest expects the project to draw national attention as utilities watch to see how a megawatt-scale project integrates with battery storage for renewable energy sources.

It will be the first development in Washington state to integrate both solar and battery storage into the state’s mix of hydro, nuclear and wind generation, said Terry Brewer, president of the Energy Northwest board of directors.

“It’s our goal to demonstrate that renewables can be a more practical option in the future,” said Mike Paoli, spokesman for Energy Northwest.

This drawing shows what the Horn Rapids Solar, Storage and Training Project in Richland may look like. It will combine solar generation with battery storage and technician training. Courtesy Energy Northwest

Batteries can help make power from intermittent sources of energy, such as wind and solar, available when it is needed.

The solar project will provide energy directly to Richland’s power distribution system, with excess electricity stored by the battery system until it is needed.

The $10 million project will help Richland meet its Washington state Energy Independence Act requirements that specific types of renewable energy, including wind and solar, provide 15 percent of its retail load by 2020, up from 9 percent currently.

The 4-megawatt project is expected to provide enough energy to power 600 homes, with the battery system planned to be able to store the power that 150 homes would use in four hours.

The battery portion of the project is the most expensive, costing about $6.5 million.

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The Tri-Cities also will see economic benefits of the training program.

Hundreds of workers from throughout the country are expected to train on solar and battery technology at the Richland project annually, according to Energy Northwest.

Training dollars brought into the Tri-Cities are estimated at about $3 million a year by Energy Northwest.

The project will be built on land owned by the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers (IBEW) Local 77 land that is leased to the Regional Education and Training Center, a nonprofit organization to train new and current workers.

The center will create a curriculum for solar and battery storage technicians that will cover plant construction, operations, maintenance and safety and hazard prevention.

Researchers at Pacific Northwest National Laboratory in Richland and the University of Washington’s Clean Energy Institute will monitor and analyze data from the project. What they learn will help develop improved battery designs and advanced tools for forecasting load and price.

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. Caren Brinkema Energy Northwest

PNNL has been helping Energy Northwest plan the project, offering business and technology advice.

Potelco, a utility construction company based in Sumner, Wash., will build and finance the solar generating array of photovoltaic panels.

In 2017 the Washington state Clean Energy Fund agreed to provide $3 million for the project. The remainder of the battery cost will be paid for by long-term bonds issued by Energy Northwest or the city of Richland.

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

However, the new solar project will be much larger than its White Bluffs Solar Station, which provides enough power for a handful of homes, but also has provided data about converting sunlight to electricity at the latitude and other conditions of the Mid-Columbia.

Annette Cary; 509-582-1533