Greenbank Farm solar project sparks questions

An artist’s drawing shows the location of a community solar energy project that would be installed at the Greenbank Farm. It would be much smaller to start. - Image courtesy of Island Community Solar
An artist’s drawing shows the location of a community solar energy project that would be installed at the Greenbank Farm. It would be much smaller to start.
— image credit: Image courtesy of Island Community Solar

Amid the community garden, farmer training center and pasture could some day be a solar power array that covers an acre of land at the historic and publicly owned Greenbank Farm.

At least one person is expressing concern about visual impacts such a power plant would have on a property that was at one time the largest loganberry producer in the United States.

“It’s a huge piece that’s right in the middle of everything that goes on out there,” Rob Hetler, a Greenbank woodworker, said of the project.

Island Community Solar LLC is a public private partnership between the Hastings Company and the Port of Coupeville, which is a public entity that owns the commercial area of the Greenbank Farm.

Early plans show the power project will start with a facility that will produce between 13 and 26 kilowatts of power. There are plans to expand to a maximum of 75 kilowatts on the one-acre property located in the field between the red-colored farm buildings and Highway 525.

The proposal has room for 12 solar power arrays, although initially only half an array or one array would be installed. Combined, the arrays would be 8-feet tall and 132-feet long.

John Hastings of Island Community Solar said that the solar power project would be melded into established patterns at the farm, such as crop rows. He added the panels would be shielded from highway view. It will, however, be visible to people visiting the farm.

“We hope people will enjoy looking at the array,” Hastings said during a meeting Thursday updating the community about the status of the project.

Hetler, who is generally supportive of the solar power project, added he would like to see more vegetation planted around the proposed arrays to minimize the visual impacts.

Island Community Solar and the Port of Coupeville have been working for months getting the solar project off the ground. The port is supplying the land and Puget Sound Energy provided a $25,000 grant administered by the Island County Council of Governments to help pay for installation.

The solar energy group is looking for investors to pay for shares of the project. Currently eight investors have doled out $10,000 each for a share in the project. Hastings said the energy group is looking for a total of 21 to 24 people willing to invest between $10,000 and $25,000.

Originally, plans called for a 10 kilowatt solar array, however plans have changed.

“We’re thinking a little bigger now,” Hastings said. A 13 kilowatt array will cost approximately $114,000 and a 26 kilowatt array will cost approximately $215,000.

Investors would see their return through a $1.08 per kilowatt hour credit that is provided by the state and funneled through Puget Sound Energy.

While the project is based on public dollars and the state is currently trying to resolve a $1.1 billion budget shortfall, Hastings said he is confident the credit will remain. He said he attended state House meetings concerning the credit and he said legislators seemed interested in continuing the credit.

If the credit is eliminated, then the only revenue generated through solar power would be the electricity that could be sold to Puget Sound Energy, which is currently paying 8.4 cents per kilowatt hour.

Hastings hopes the first array will be placed at the farm sometime around March 2011. It will take between two and three weeks to install.

Once installed, he hopes the project will spark more interest in solar energy.

“We’re hoping this will be an incubator for solar business,” Hastings said.

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