A Reasoned View: This is NOT the time to drop the solar farm idea! A Must Read!

A Reasoned View: This is NOT the time to drop the solar farm idea

This is directed to all Ashlanders who believe that global warming is an urgent concern and believe in acting locally. The Tidings is advocating the termination of an important program which promises to reduce the City’s carbon footprint.

Over 2,000 citizens petitioned the City. In response to those petitioners, the City Council unanimously backed an ordinance (10X20) to locally generate 10% of our current electricity use via renewables. A recent editorial in the Tidings (7/26) uses misleading and unfounded contentions in an attempt to foreclose an opportunity to act as a community to locally achieve the mandate of the ordinance. City Staff and its consultants understand this would most economically be accomplished via a 10-15 Megawatt capacity solar farm located on City-owned land across I-5 – The “Imperatrice” property.

10X20 was passed in 2016. Substantial study by City Staff and its consultants has occurred since. This progress was ignored by the Tidings. Its puzzling reference to “a city staff report from 2015” supposedly invalidating the 10X20 ordinance, passed into law much later, in 2016, confuses. The petitioners and the Council must not have been convinced!

The utilization of 50 acres (required for the farm) of an 800 acre site – the Imperatrice– seems unrelated to the balance of the arguments made in the editorial. The fossil-fueled Pacific Power contamination of “clean” Bonneville Power Administration hydraulically generated electricity is of apparently no concern to the Tidings. [The electricity we use in Ashland arrives via PP transmission lines which City staff and the Oregon DEQ agree is generated 50% from fossil fuels at our point of use.] The 10% replacement mandated by ordinance would be a small but meaningful increment to improve the City’s carbon footprint. The City will be a slave to PP until it terminates its coal, oil and natural gas derived power in 2050 — unless we begin to take action.

10X20 must not endanger the City’s financial condition or unfairly burden electrical ratepayers here. There are really no TECHNICAL issues to achieve 10% replacement with renewably generated electricity that cannot be resolved. There are important financial ones that may or may not have near-term solutions. These are under active review by City Staff.

  • The BPA contract, under which we receive our electricity, has a “take or pay” clause(s) under which Ashland must pay for a minimum lump sum of power whether we use it or not. However, this requirement applies only to a first tier of power use which we already exceed from time to time and on average we currently meet. It does not apply to the next increment. And the contract with BPA will be renegotiated so that by 2028 this should not be an issue.
  • It is projected that
  • the very low cost of BPA power will rise, tending to close the gap between its delivered cost and that of locally generated solar power,
  • the capital cost of solar will continue to fall 10% annually and,
  • electricity use here will rise due to population increase and the transition locally from fossil fuel to electrical uses (think electric cars, increased air conditioning, etc.). City staff is preparing projections using these and other variables — an extremely important effort that could show the way to an economical 10% replacement.
  • While the Imperatrice is outside City limits and in the PP service area, City staff and consultant findings show a solar farm can transmit directly to City substation(s). Preliminary cost estimates from consultants to the City take this into account.

City Staff is continuing to refine the possibilities. This is a very complex undertaking and requires patience and some upfront investment to avoid large financial and environmental mistakes.

  • Environmental studies of the Imperatrice, taking account other interests (environmental, other City uses), are well underway and seem to indicate the acceptability of dedicating 50 acres for solar.
  • City staff is reviewing other alternatives to meet the 10% power replacement target and even looking into schedule modifications that may be more appropriate. E.g., site activation by 2023 will still qualify for maximum federal tax preference if the work is initiated by 2020.

No more time should be lost resisting the will of the people. Once CO2 is in the atmosphere, it is more or less there to stay. This is not the time to abandon a project so fully supported by the City, especially relying on dated/incorrect/oversimplified arguments.

If you agree with this article, please let your Councilor and the Mayor know. They should be made aware you do not want misinformation guiding City policy.

Dave Helmich, A Friend of 10X20