More thoughts about solar facilities: why is solar use increasing and what about water use?

solar farm 2b

By Barry Brunson

To my friends and fellow citizens in the League of Women Voters:

I greatly appreciate the opportunity to share some thoughts with you, following the June 6 ag-solar forum at Hal Holmes. I had a letter to the editor in the June 19 Daily Record about it, but their 400-word limit forced me to omit a couple of key points. With your indulgence, I include those omitted points below. First, here is the LTE I sent:

Click here to read Barry’s Daily Record letter to the editor.

The two omitted points are: (1) Why is solar use increasing anyway? (2) What about water rights?

The most pressing issue worldwide is climate change brought on by the burning of fossil fuels over the last 150 years. Unless we change direction, the consequences will be severe, and mostly felt by our children and grandchildren. Whether or not to address climate change should not be an idle discussion akin to deciding what to have for dinner. Moving from fossil fuels to renewable sources of energy must be a major part of any strategy to avoid those severe consequences.

Rooftop (and warehouse-top, parking-lot, barn-top, …) solar can and should be installed wherever possible, and that will be a great help. However, utility-scale solar installations can’t be avoided. Indeed, they already are proliferating. Why? It’s not only because it’s the right thing to do, but it’s also the economical thing to do. The explosive growth in solar installations of all kinds over the past couple of decades has—quite naturally—gone hand in hand with a dramatic decrease in the cost. (This also is true of wind energy.) Towns, cities, and companies are shifting to renewables because, in more and more cases, it’s cheaper even in the short run, without considering the long-term benefit to society.

What about water? On March 9 of this year, the Daily Record ran an article with the headline “Forecasters expect full water supply.” We almost could hear that collective sigh of relief all the way from the Cascades to the Columbia! The whole point, however, is that such a sigh was not guaranteed, especially when we consider the dire situation of 2015, when the Director of the Washington Department of Ecology said “This drought is unlike any we’ve ever experienced.” Couple that with the prediction, also from the same agency: “By mid-century, Washington could receive 8% less summer rainfall, on average. By 2100, a 20% decline is projected.”

Reduced winter snowpack also becomes more likely in the future. Indeed, a quote from Ecology’s Dec. 2016 report ties these and other threads together: “In the Pacific Northwest, in recent years we have observed devastating wildfires, drought, lack of snowpack, and increases in ocean acidification. To make the point even sharper, the June 22 Yakima Herald-Republic carries an article “Dry weather will mean less water for irrigators,” effectively showing that the sigh of relief was premature.

These events are examples of what our future will look like if we fail to take action. What action? Addressing climate change! I understand and respect those who seek to exclude currently active irrigated farmland from solar installations. However, I suggest that, even in those cases, suspending or withdrawing water from those locations might serve to increase the chances that others will receive their full water allotments.

Again, thank you very much for your indulgence in granting me this opportunity. I initially reached out to the LWV via email with my compliments, but I also mentioned knowing of several people who chose not to attend after seeing the list of panelists, feeling that it would be more of an endorsement of the Save Our Farms position than an open discussion. I later learned that LWV had solicited, without success, one of the farmers who has land included in the project, as well as a speaker from TUUSSO.

Sincerely,

Barry Brunson, Cle Elum

PS: My thanks to Meghan Anderson, who led me to the “Dry weather will mean less water for irrigators” article.

PPS: Except to the extent that we humans all share a common ancestry, I am not related to the Brunson family whose land is included in the TUUSSO project.

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