Opinion

Private dollars helped fund Greenbank solar project | Sound Off

By Jim Patton

It was ironic to read an accurate and timely article (by Nathan Whalen on page A2) on the Port of Coupeville’s financial issues in the same edition of the Whidbey News-Times as a letter to the editor criticizing the Community Solar Energy Project at the Greenbank Farm. The author of the letter might have been less critical if he had called and asked the Port for the facts or read the Minutes of the Port’s public meetings over the last year. The Port’s telephone number is: 678-5020 and the minutes are posted on the Port’s website: portofcoupeville.org.

The Port’s mission, as shown in its Comprehensive Plan, is two-fold: economic development and protection of the environment. In the case of the solar energy project, the Port took advantage of recent state laws promoting the production of sustainable energy by public – private enterprises to dedicate one acre of the farm’s 151 acres to the installation of six arrays of photovoltaic cells.

The cells and their electric inverters are manufactured in this state, thus qualifying for the full incentive award of $1.08 per kilowatt hour per year of electricity produced. Our publicly owned Port joined with a private (and local) limited liability company, Island Community Solar, to form the community-based enterprise. The Port prepared the site with the aid of a $25,000 grant from the Council of Governments and the members of Island Community Solar purchased enough photo cells and inverters to install the first of the six arrays. The members of Island Community Solar will be entitled to the annual incentive awards as well as income tax deductions and proceeds from the sale of electricity to the local grid.

Planning for the private purchase of the remaining arrays is underway. The goal is to produce an amount of electrical energy on the acre equivalent to the energy consumed by all the activities at the Greenbank Farm. The farm is fortunately located near the axis of the Rain Shadow and at one of the narrowest places on the island, so it benefits from plenty of sunshine as well as cool breezes that contribute to the efficiency of the photo cells.

When all six lots within the acre are leased to private solar energy producers the Port will receive about $3,000 in annual rent which compares favorably with the average of $250 per acre per year rented for agricultural purposes on Whidbey Island.

Nevertheless, the solar arrays are designed to permit the continued use of the acre for pasturing small animals. The Port’s commitment to agriculture has been amply demonstrated through its support for the Community Supported Agriculture Project that trains young farmers and is just completing its third successful season on 10 organically certified acres of the farm. The Port’s share of the bountiful harvest from this project is donated to the Gifts From the Heart Food Bank in Coupeville.

Balancing economic development with protection of the environment isn’t always easy, but in the case of these two community projects everything seems to be falling into place.

Jim Patton is the executive director for the Port of Coupeville

 

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