After a lengthy discussion at the Board of County Commissioners meeting May 25, the board voted unanimously to rescind the temporary moratorium on solar farm development in Klickitat County.
Commissioner Dan Christopher’s vote came reluctantly. “I don’t like it,” he said. “But it’s better than nothing.”
Earlier in the meeting, Commissioner David Sauter spoke to the central issue. “The real discussion is about what neighbors want to look at,” he said. “That’s the crux of it. It isn’t because all the environmental impacts—all of those other things do get dealt with during our current processes, wildlife impacts, impacts on traffic, noise, dust, all of those things. It is, what’s the number, the maximum number of people who don’t want to, or are okay with, looking at this being in their neighborhood? And how do we arrive at that number?”
Christopher said he’d had discussions with citizens in Goldendale and farmers in Centerville who he said were concerned with the impact of solar development around Goldendale.
“Nobody is building any solar projects on somebody else’s property,” Sauter said. “Nobody’s making anybody build anything. And I am very sensitive to private property rights. And I know folks are talking about, well, what about my private property rights? Well, that’s a really hard thing to quantify without some subjective criteria. And where do you draw the line?”
Conversation ensued about how well the public had been advised about solar farms. Christopher contended the board in previous years had not done enough to educate people about solar impact. It was pointed out the county’s Energy Overlay Zone has been very public and represented a thorough inclusion of public input at the time and that new ordinances could certainly be considered about control of solar projects. But, Sauter said, “I just don’t think it’s fair to private property owners right now to have their lives all put on hold for the next multiple years while we rezone the county because some people don’t want to look at it.”
The point was raised about whether or not continuing the current moratorium would help while new ordinances were considered. “If we feel like the consensus, or at least the majority of the board, is not in favor of developing ordinances specific to solar, there is no reason to continue the moratorium,” Sauter stated. “If we’re going to instead lift the moratorium and trust the process, provide what recommendations we can to the Board of Adjustment, that can happen.”
The board touched on whether or not it was practical to consider an ordinance for one part of the county—the Knight Road area outside Goldendale, for example, where much controversy has been stirred over solar—but not for the entire county. Christopher presented some figures on division of public opinion on solar, without citing sources for the numbers. “We’re listening to our citizens,” he said, “and the majority of citizens—five percent of the people that have an issue are the no-solar people. Then you have the 95 percent that don’t like the way it’s set up now with our policy and lack of ordinance. Maybe they’re listening to the first five percent.”
“I don’t think that’s an accurate number,” Sauter countered. “Do I think there is an enormous amount of misinformation and this education out there? Absolutely. I would agree with that. And I would say there’s a lot of bad information on both sides of the argument. I think there are scare tactics being used as well. I’m not in favor of writing an ordinance for a single area. This is a site-specific project, specific for an area that is different from a lot of the other areas that solar is getting currently permitted at.”
“I’m not arguing my point based on the 12 neighbors [in the area],” Christopher said. “Everybody thinks that I’m anti solar and I’m only with the 12 people up there. This isn’t just the no-solar, ‘I live on Fish Hatchery Road’ group.”
At a certain point, Christopher, who had favored the moratorium, said he was going to change his mind. “If we do the study and we’re willing to work on some kind of thing like this, I will sign off, because I know I will lose the argument anyway. At least then I have some negotiation, and I can get something accomplished, versus nothing… I’m signing off on this because I think the solar companies have a heck of a lot of outreach to do with this community. If they’ve been listening to the people in the community, they know they have a lot of outreach to do. By signing off on this, hopefully they show up and have those discussions.”