RICHLAND -- Richland's city electric utility is working to add solar power to its grid.
The renewable power source will help fulfill a requirement of Initiative 937 passed by state voters in 2006. The clean energy initiative requires an electric utility with 25,000 or more customers to use "eligible renewable resources" to meet a portion of its load -- 3 percent by 2012, 9 percent by 2016 and 20 percent by 2020.
The city has taken a major step toward that goal by partnering with the Port of Benton, the Tri-Cities Research District and Kennewick's Infinia Corp. to establish a solar project on 10 acres near First Street and Stevens Drive in Richland. The port land has leased the site to the city for $1 a year for 20 years.
A ground breaking ceremony was held Thursday for the project.
The pilot project involves setting up 12 to 15 solar power generators made by Infinia -- the first-ever commercial installation of the Kennewick company's 3-kilowatt PowerDish -- which will be connected to the city's power grid. The PowerDish generators use concentrated sunlight with Infinia's free-piston Stirling engine to generate electricity.
The project will demonstrate how solar power can be harnessed effectively to reduce dependence on any single source of power, said U.S. Rep. Doc Hastings, R-Wash.
"The diversification of power sources is a good idea," Hastings said. "We need to have pilot projects for other energy sources as well."
The demonstration system is expected to be functional by fall, said J.D. Sitton, Infinia's president and chief executive officer. It will generate 45 kilowatts, enough to take care of the energy needs of up to eight homes, he said.
The pilot project will show Infinia technology works and that "we are commercially available," Sitton said. There's room for adding hundreds of Infinia's PowerDish systems at the site, he said.
The Hanford site gets enough sunlight that it could generate power equal to 16 nuclear plants, each generating about 1,100 megawatts, Sitton said. One nuclear plant can supply enough power to meet the needs of Seattle.
The Richland project will show how to make the Tri-Cities a green area, said Raymon D. Sieler, Richland Energy Services director.
The city will spend $350,000 for site improvement and to buy and install Infinia's PowerDish systems, Sieler said. The project will pave the way to integrate solar in the city's power grid, which is now largely supported by hydroelectric power, he said.
Gary Spanner, chairman of the Tri-Cities Research District board, called the project a means to promote clean technology. It fits in with the aims of the research district, he said, and there's nothing better than having a local manufacturer bring the clean tech concept to reality.
The research district, which adjoins the solar project area, plans to buy a few additional PowerDish systems for the project, Spanner said.
-- Pratik Joshi: 582-1541; email@example.com