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Solar, Wind Becoming More Common In Inland Northwest

Doug Nadvornick/SPR

The group Environment Washington released a report Tuesday that shows Washington and Idaho are fully participating in the growth of renewable energy sources in the U.S.

It’s not just hydro power. Idaho is 18th in the nation for wind and solar; 12 1/2% of its electricity is produced by those two sources. Washington ranks 23rd at about 8 1/2%. Those numbers come from the U.S. Energy Information Administration.

Wind and solar are becoming more common in the Inland Northwest too.

Environment Washington’s report came out on the same day Avista announced the largest solar array in Washington was coming online. That’s near the Adams County town of Lind. It features 81,700 solar panels. Avista is selling the power generated there to some of its largest business customers.

That’s the large scale version of solar. At the micro level, homeowners are putting solar panels on their south-facing roofs to take care of their own needs and maybe send power back to the grid.

In northwest Spokane, the social service group Transitions has a 24-unit housing village, its Home Yard Cottages, for low-income tenants. Solar panels sit on the roofs of 15 of them. Executive Director Edie Rice-Sauer says renewable energy was part of the plan from the beginning.

“The governor had put out some money a number of years ago for construction of ultra-efficient units and so we jumped on it," Rice-Sauer said. "There was a time when I wondered if that was wise because it actually took money away from other construction. But we’re actually the first group that’s finished that project through the Department of Commerce. It matches our mission and I’m really excited that we decided to do it and stuck to it and followed through.”

Environmental advocates say projects like that are not just good for the environment, they’re good for economies too. At Environment Washington’s press conference on Tuesday, Spokane City Council President Ben Stuckart noted the town of Dayton in southeastern Washington.

“They lost their largest manufacturing firm, which was asparagus. Their largest growth industry, which has replaced those jobs, is the windmills down there," Stuckart said. "So if we actually smartly look at transferring to a clean energy economy, that is the future of growth in our economy.”

Earlier this year the Spokane City Council adopted a target of creating all of the city’s electricity using renewable energy sources, including hydro, by the year 2030. It joins a few cities such as Bellingham in setting ambitious goals. Avista publicly supported the vision, even if has reservations about committing to a 2030 target.