‘A win-win-win’: DNR enters first lease for solar power generation on state lands

For the first time, large-scale solar power generation is coming to Washington’s public lands.

Commissioner of Public Lands Hilary Franz announced Wednesday that the Washington State Department of Natural Resources is entering into an agreement with a utility company to lease 480 acres of state trust lands in Klickitat County as part of a 150-megawatt solar power project.

Portland-based Avangrid Renewables agreed to a 40-year lease for the property, near the town of Bickleton, and expects to start transmitting power late next year. But the site will be generating more than electricity – it will also bring in $120,000 each year for schools across the state.

“Solar power is a win-win-win for the people of Washington,” said Commissioner Franz, the elected official who oversees DNR. “It generates significant revenue for our schools while creating jobs and providing clean, affordable energy to our homes and businesses.”

Solar power may be new to DNR, but the department already has an expansive clean energy program anchored by wind energy. Each year, turbines on state trust land generate 200 megawatts of power and raise $1.2 million for school construction and other public services.

The Bickleton lease is not a one-off project – DNR has two other parcels in Eastern Washington that are currently up for lease for solar power generation, and more than a dozen companies have expressed interest in using upwards of 30 tracts of state land to create solar power.

“Our goal is to produce 500 megawatts of solar power on public lands by 2025,” Franz said. “The clean energy we generate reduces pollution and builds energy independence in our communities. And it also creates family-wage jobs in parts of our state that need them the most.”

The Klickitat County parcel is currently being used as grazing land for livestock, generating $2 per acre per year. But Avangrid will instead be leasing the land it uses for power generation for $300 a year.

A map of the parcel in Klickitat County that DNR is leasing for the generation of solar power.
A map of the parcel in Klickitat County that DNR is leasing for the generation of solar power.

If the land were leased solely for grazing rights at the $2 price for the next 40 years, it would generate $38,400 for the Common School Trust, which is used to help fund school construction across the state. Once Avangrid begins generating power at the site, DNR will make that same figure over four months. In the 40-year span of the lease, the property will instead generate about $4.8 million for the trust.

“Executing the first solar power lease on state lands for a project like this is an exciting development for us as we work to expand solar energy in the Northwest,” said Avangrid Renewables’ Vice President for Business Development Jesse Gronner. “We still have a lot of work to do to push this project forward, but we think it’s a great site for a solar project, and we thank Commissioner Franz and her staff for working with us.”