Klickitat County residents and members of community group Citizens Educated About Solar Energy (C.E.A.S.E.) demonstrated their opposition to solar farm developments last Thursday outside the Goldendale Post Office.
Demonstrators, such as C.E.A.S.E. founder Greg Wagner, have been hitting the sidewalk in protest every Thursday for the past several weeks against solar developments, which Wagner says would have a “serious human impact.”
Wagner said one day last fall, he walked outside and spotted a strange car in a wheat field near his house on Fish Hatchery Road and a person beside it, taking soil samples; a backhoe idled behind. The person beside the car would not tell Wagner what they were doing, but the backhoe operator told him the land was going to be turned into a solar farm.
Wagner contends there is a lack of transparency with regard to solar moratoriums, and he has argued that county ordinances do not effectively regulate solar developments.
No proposals have yet been submitted, but at least two developers have expressed interest in sites near a Bonneville Power Administration-owned substation on Knight Road, north of Goldendale.
The movement has gained momentum — within the past month, Klickitat County Commissioners voted 2-1 to enact a moratorium on solar projects connected to the BPA substation. If the vote went the other way, Wagner said, “We as citizens would have woken up with a solar farm in our backyard.”
With the moratorium, residents say they feel like they have a chance for their voices to be heard.
“Having this moratorium shows people can come together and stand against something that is unjust,” said county resident Rocel Dimmick. Dimmick also voiced concerns that a project sited on the land would remove farmable land for decades and cut county residents out of the majority of the benefits if solar farms are not be taxed under industrial rates and its energy output does not stay in the county.
Kerry Scherer moved to the area from Camas recently. While her land would not be directly affected by solar projects near Knight Road, she got involved, she said, because “I have a belief that good farmland is rare.
“They’re wasting a resource and that’s the part that aggravates me,” Scherer said.
Klickitat County Commissioner Dan Christopher visited with demonstrators, and spoke with Columbia Gorge News. Wagner affirmed that the group has found support with Christopher, who championed the motion to enact the moratorium.
Christopher would not comment directly on what he hopes comes out of the moratorium, saying he wants to hear the opinions coming from the public hearing, yet signaled that he “would prefer solar in the tumbleweeds.
“An issue like this transcends party,” Christopher said. “When somebody’s planning something in somebody’s backyard, that person’s opinion should have more weight.”
Christopher said that the demonstrations signal a lack of trust in the process.
“I don’t think government does a good job of listening to people,” Christopher said. “If government did a better job with town halls, word would spread and we wouldn’t have these surprises.”
But, he said, “You have to actively know what’s going on in your government."
He said about the person who had his land surrounded in the Lund Hill site, “his family leased all the land.”
C.E.A.S.E. is hosting an in-person informational meeting 6:30 p.m. on April 14 at the Goldendale Grange. The group is asking those interested to RSVP since space is limited.
County Commissioners will take public testimony regarding the moratorium in two separate hearings, scheduled for 2 p.m. and 6 p.m., Tuesday, May 4.