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Bailer Hill Microgrid Update

We need your help today – keep reading to find out how you can help!
The Bailer Hill Microgrid project on San Juan Island will include a community solar array and battery storage to provide a small amount of local energy resiliency for the islands – in addition to giving Co-op members access to the benefits of solar without the cost and maintenance burdens of personal projects. This project has been delayed for several years with supplier and permitting delays – but we are now at a critical point and need your help to complete our permitting with San Juan County. A conditional use hearing scheduled for April 24th and we need your written comments delivered to the County before April 3rd.
The Conditional Use Hearing will evaluate OPALCO’s siting of this community solar project on land zoned for agriculture – a first in San Juan County.
Why local energy generation? Why now? The region is mandated by legislation to get fossil fuels out of our energy diet. During this transition, rolling blackouts and other gaps in power supply are forecast as new clean energy resources are developed, as well as new transmission lines to bring the power to consumers like us. Learn more: Why Local Renewable Projects? Mainland Power Demand Will Soon Exceed Supply. Here are some talking points:
  • As the regional meets decarbonization mandates, power supplier reliability will be challenged by fossil fuel generators being retired faster than renewable resources are being developed to replace them. The industry expects blackouts during peak demand events and storms. These local energy project provide a small power supply for the islands during emergencies.
  • OPALCO has partnered with a neighboring sheep farmer to graze the Bailer Hill property. Oak Knoll Farm has been grazing the site for several years and will continue after the panels are installed.
  • OPALCO partnered with the San Juan Islands Conservation District to develop a farm plan for the site. The farm plan demonstrates that the best practices OPALCO plans to follow will result in improved soil health over the 25-year project.
  • Use of this land for solar does not preclude future agricultural uses. The anticipated life of the project is 25 years. OPALCO has a plan for decommissioning the project when the site is no longer viable.
  • The project is consistent with San Juan County Comp Plan including the following excerpts (but not citing every alignment that exists):
    • Section B, Element 2, Subsection 2.2.C (Energy): “The policies in this section include a provision that San Juan County ‘provide opportunities for the development and use of alternative energy resources that are compatible with the natural environment.’
    • Section 8.5.A General Goals and Policies:
      • Goal 6: “Minimize the environmental impacts of electricity production and use while promoting energy independence.”
      • Policy 1: “Encourage utility service providers to explore innovative and alternative methods of producing energy.”
      • Policy 2: “Work with the San Juan County Conservation District and OPALCO to promote community solar projects and provide technical assistance and incentives to increase individual home solar installations.”
      • Policy 7: “Ensure that solar installations are sited and designed in a manner that minimizes impacts on agricultural land, allows for flexibility in future agricultural activity and maximizes potential for multiple benefits from “agrivoltaics”
  • OPALCO has already received National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) approval for the project.
  • Infrastructure improvements that OPALCO will make to the land, including vehicle access, fencing, power supply and water, will improve conditions for current and future farming uses.
  • OPALCO has secured a $1M grant from the WA Dept of Commerce’s Clean Energy Fund to dedicate a portion of the project benefits to low-income households in San Juan County.
Your personal letter of support will help illustrate to the County the importance of local, renewable power on our islands. Your letter of support for project permitting in no way obligates you to buy Community Solar shares – but helps pave the way for this important project on San Juan Island. Please send your letter of support to: San Juan County Department of Community DevelopmentPO Box 947Friday Harbor WA 98250or via email: marcs@sanjuancountywa.gov – and please copy us at communications@opalco.com
When Will Member Subscriptions Open?Once permitting is complete, member subscriptions will quickly open. We are hopeful that we could begin offering solar units as soon as this summer. As members of this solar list, you’ll be the first to know the details as they are confirmed. What we know so far is that the Board set the cost per unit at $300 (for ~107W) and there will be as many as 28,000 units available. The solar credit paid to subscribers will be consistent with the Production Energy Rate as described in the Residential Distributed Renewable Tariff (currently $0.0868 net credit).As we did with the Decatur Microgrid Project, we’ll let each member request as many units as they want, but award units in tranches to make sure all members who are interested can have a piece of the project during a time-limited offering.  There is a lot of interest in this project – we expect subscriptions to sell quickly. Thanks for your patience as we work to keep this project moving.  It’s progressing slower than we hoped, but we are still on track to bring all of the benefits of local energy resilience to the Co-op and another important opportunity for members to offset their own energy usage.OPALCO will be holding an informational meeting about this project on March 26 from 4-5 pm via Zoom. Register here to attend..
Here are some renderings of the projects:
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