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Quick Fact: 2024 OPALCO Docket Requests to San Juan County

The energy world is changing dramatically due to climate impacts and the transition toward renewable power. The goal of the state and nation is to transition away from fossil fuels and heat our homes and fuel our vehicles using electricity. This lofty goal is proving to be highly challenging for the islands and communities across the nation.

The dilemma we are facing is to figure out how to satisfy increased demand for electricity while the supply of carbon-free firm power shrinks. As more coal plants shut down and are replaced with intermittent resources (solar and wind), energy blackouts are predicted.

Given our remote location, the best bet for clean and affordable power is to build renewable generation projects locally. In order to do this, OPALCO needs STRONG community support and to change antiquated land use designations that date back to a time when diesel generators were the option.

Earlier this year OPALCO requested changes to the Comprehensive Plan regarding land use designations and now those changes are being reviewed by the San Juan County Planning Commission. The two requests:

  1. Add a new land use to the “Agricultural” and “Forestry Use” designations to include “Agri-Solar generation”. This would encourage increased local renewable energy and diversify farm income to improve the stressed economics of local food productions. It would allow permitting for agri-solar generation in rural areas & AG Resource Lands and it would allow conditional use in Forest Resource Lands.
  2. Add a land use to “Utilities Uses” and would be called “Utility Renewable power-generation facilities” for modern renewable energy systems that are clean and quiet, unlike legacy non-renewable power generation systems that may be deployed in the code’s current “Commercial power-generation facilities.” The current land use designations exclude utility scale solar projects from 63% of land in San Juan County – which makes agricultural dedicated land as one of the only options for these projects. It would allow for provisional/conditional use permitting for utility renewable-power generation facilities in all rural designated areas and “AG Resource lands”, and conditional use in “Forest Resource Lands”.

Here is the summary of why OPALCO is requesting the changes to the docket:

  • Washington plans to cut greenhouse gas emissions in half over the next six years.
  • While essential to slow climate disruption, experts forecast a supply-demand shortfall of over 25 GW by 2035.
  • Summer and winter mainland rolling blackouts are imminent and will increase as the supply/demand shortfall accelerates.
  • The county Comp Plan calls for “energy independence.” OPALCO estimates we can achieve that in summer and power essential services in winter with just 135 acres of microgrid on each ferry-served island.
  • Just as we did with the broadband crisis, OPALCO will move mountains to get the job done. We just need the county to commit.
  • We urge the Planning Commission and County leadership to send a clear signal to islanders that when the first rolling blackouts hit, the county gave reliable local energy resilience their highest priority.
  • Gov. Inslee has said the state needs to permit more green energy projects and can’t be deterred by local opposition.
  • Funding for local renewable energy projects is available now, from state and federal governments.
  • Agri-solar represents a financial lifeline for farmers to diversify incomes, keep farms in the family, and farmers on the land as stewards. The shade agri-solar offers helps grazing animals and crops thrive in a climate-changed world.
  • Community solar expands access, especially among multifamily building occupants, renters, and low-and moderate-income households, extending solar adoption to communities that would have otherwise struggled to adopt rooftop solar.
  • Rooftop solar doesn’t work during outages, and will only provide a small fraction of what is needed.
  • The Comp Plan Vision and Challenges highlights the need for energy independence.

Read OPALCO’s full comments with corresponding background information

With increasing amounts of grant opportunities, it is important for OPALCO to have permitting certainty to meet the grant requirements and access these funds. Members can make public comment to the Planning Commission in support of more renewable energy in the islands. Please send all public comments to brookes@sanjuancountywa.gov by July 18. Comments should refer directly to one or more 2024 Docket requests.

For more information on the 2024 Annual Docket Staff Report and Public Hearing find it here: https://www.sanjuancountywa.gov/DocumentCenter/View/30200/2024_06_21_Docket_-PC-Public-Hearing_w_attach?bidId=

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