A state official says a solar energy farm that will be built in Klickitat County will do more than generate electricity.

Commissioner of Public Lands Hilary Franz announced Wednesday that Portland-based Avangrid Renewables will develop a 150-megawatt solar-energy project on 480 acres of state-owned land it will lease near Bickleton. The agreement will produce $120,000 a year in new revenue for public education, she said.

“I don’t know anyone who has a mutual fund or an investment that has a 15,000-percent increase,” Franz said in a phone interview Wednesday.

Previously, the land was leased for $2 an acre for grazing, generating $960 a year. Avangrid will lease it for $300 an acre per year for 40 years.

Avangrid plans to have the farm operational by the end of 2020, said Paul Copleman, Avangrid’s communications manager. The lease with DNR is part of 2,200 acres Avangrid is seeking for the project. So far, it has a combined 1,800 acres of public and private land.

The company, which also operates wind farms, is in negotiations with a potential buyer for the power that the solar farm will generate, Copleman said.

The Bickleton land is one of more than 30 tracts the state is opening for solar energy development, and Avangrid’s project will be the first on Washington public land.

DNR already has leased land to wind-turbine operators, who generate 200 megawatts of power and provide $1.2 million in revenue for the state, Franz said.

But DNR was looking at a way to diversify, as well as provide a more stable source of funding for the Common School Trust, the fund in which lease payments from DNR funds go to fund school construction.

“We went out into the solar-energy world and said Washington state was open for business,” Franz said.

DNR identified 35 tracts that were suitable for solar-energy development. Franz said the land had to be close to transmission lines and power substations, have sufficient sunshine for energy generation and not be considered prime agricultural land.

So far, Franz said 15 companies have expressed an interest in leasing land for solar-energy projects.

Two sites east of Moxee were deemed suitable for solar power. There was interest expressed in the sites but no applications for them as yet, said DNR Communications Manager Kenny Ocker.

The Bickleton project will benefit the area by creating more jobs with livable wages for families, Franz said.

The Klickitat County project is part of the DNR’s Rural Communities Partnership Initiative, an effort to foster investment and create jobs using natural resources. Other projects have included reopening a lumber mill in Raymond, a boat-recycling facility in Ilwaco and a collaboration with the Kalama School District to help students manage a 32-acre forest next to a middle school.


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