SIGNS

The intersection of Highway 142 and Knight Road just west of Goldendale. On the wooden fence just past the road sign is a flyer for CEASE, the organization trying to stop a huge solar energy project from sprawling across the land.

This is part one of a series on the controversy over a planned solar energy near Goldendale.

Someone on the CEASE website has been busy with Photoshop. CEASE stands for Citizens Educated About Solar Energy, and the organization’s website (CEASE2020.org) is filled with idyllic shots of scenery before and after—before solar panel arrays and after. The after shots are Photoshopped projections of what the land could look like if CEASE doesn’t have its way.

CEASE’s name reflects its desire: it wants a huge solar farm planned to cover the open expanses around Knight Road just outside Goldendale to stop and go bother someone else’s neighborhood. Or, better yet, not to bother anyone anywhere.

CEASE’s embodiment is Greg Wagner, its founder. If you want to talk solar energy with Wagner, be prepared to spend a while. He’s passionate about the topic—he lives in the area where the solar project is projected to go—and once he gets going, he doesn’t have a pause button. He’s amassed a group of citizens who share his concerns, and their collective volume has already wrought some unexpected, if still small, victories.

For example, a once-unthinkable moratorium on solar projects has been enacted in Klickitat County, the result of a county commissioner changing his mind. The vote for the moratorium was on March 9, and it could be for up to six months.

“Well, we know we can’t stop it,” Wagner sighs, “because the president of the United States wants all this renewable energy, and the governor’s all behind it. Part of our plan was to stop it by having a moratorium. We’ve accomplished that. But if we can’t stop it, we at least want to control it.”

Wagner says solar energy hasn’t got a single thing in its favor. He calls it dangerous and a gross encumbrance on the convenience, scenic beauty, and property values of homes in the area. “It’s going to ruin all that,” he states. “Who wants 14-foot-high chain link fencing blocking their view? Because that’s what it’ll be.” On top of that, he says, the energy solar produces is sold out of state, with no energy economic benefit for the area. While one study shows potential for substantial tax advantages for the county, Wagner says he’s unaware of anything but statistics indicating miniscule tax revenues.

If he were right about all this, it might make one wonder why any company would build solar farms. But they do, and Wagner says they scout for areas that are easy marks.

“You can go to [the website] library.municode.com, and you can click on any state and then go to any county and start reading all its ordinances,” Wagner states. Energy companies use the site to target easy pickings, places with few and least-binding energy ordinances that could prove least troublesome to drop a project.

And Klickitat County has very little in the way of ordinance related to solar. The county largely relies on a zoning-like entity called the Energy Overlay Zone (EOZ), the first of its kind in the U.S., an almost 20-year-old construct designed to show areas in Klickitat County where renewable energy projects could be allowed. About half a million dollars went into forming the EOZ by way of exhaustive environmental impact studies to reveal best locations for energy. The EOZ, despite being in place for near 20 years, is little known to the general public—and Wagner and others bought land smack in the middle of the EOZ area around Knight Road and says he had no idea he was doing so. Now he’s trying to at least have a say in how an energy project unfolds in his back yard.

“We want setbacks,” he says. “They say they want to come out in the middle of the night and work on the solar farm, when there’s no electricity, no sun shining on the panel. That’s the time to work on these things. But I don’t want them behind my house, 20 feet from my house in the middle of the night with flood lights and trucks and banging around, waking us up. That’s one of our proposed ordinances: you can’t work on them between 6 p.m. and 8 a.m. So we have some privacy.”

It’s a fall-back position for Wagner, a best-case scenario in the face of what he sees as inevitable. But he remains fiercely opposed to what he calls inherent safety failings in solar energy. As an example, he points to the problem of disposing of solar panels at the end of their lifespan, which he says could be about 20 years.

“There’s no way to properly recycle them,” he state. It’s electronic waste. You just can’t throw it in a landfill because of the carcinogens in the solar panels; if the glass breaks, that reaches out into the environment.”

One source says the dangerous elements in panels is in only trace amounts, requiring vast volumes to do damage. Wagner counters, “Each panel I would say, that’s true. But when you add up millions of panels, then it becomes a big issue.”

Wagner says there are no facilities that will take such waste products. It’s mentioned that the one in Arlington, Oregon, is set up to handle this kind of waste. Wagner has an answer for that. He says at one of his informational gatherings, a man came up to him who works at the Arlington waste facility. Wagner says the man told him they had a whole warehouse full of solar panels. “He said, ‘We don’t know what to do with them,’ ”Wagner reports.  “And he worked there.” He says the man would not give his name for fear of reprisal from the facility.

Then there’s fire. “We asked them about a fire,” Wagner says about a communication he had with a solar representative. “Who’s going to fight the fire? ‘Well, we’ve got the local fire marshall, they’ll come out once a year, we train them. We got a 10,000 gallon tank of water right there.’ I’m thinking, you can’t use water on an electrical fire. So you’re only going to use that on the brush. And there are no fire hydrants around, so you must have a long hose. It’s going to reach clean across there to put a fire out. You know, it was just a dog and pony show. That’s what they’re good at. It’s propaganda.”

One aspect of the false picture Wagner says the energy companies paint that particularly galls him is their talk of being a good neighbor. “I’ve tried to speak with some of these people,” he remarks, “people who they want to be a good neighbor to the community. Some of them won’t even take the time to respond. They just ignore us. That’s not being a good neighbor.”

So CEASE, a community of concerned neighbors, is taking to the streets, literally, holding small demonstrations and getting people around town to sign a petition calling on further action against solar companies. Are they just delaying a coming wave too big to stop? Can they at least contain it? What they can do is pump up the volume, become a squeaky wheel too loud to ignore.

The group holds an informational meeting at the Goldendale Grange on April 14 at 6:30 p.m.