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Land Use for renewable energy in Washington: Balancing growth and regulations

On Behalf of | Jun 18, 2024 | Agricultural Law, Land Use, Environmental Law

Washington State’s commitment to renewable energy is evident through recent legislation, including the signing of House Bill 1216. This bill streamlines the process for developing renewable energy projects, making it easier and faster to build wind and solar facilities. However, this growth comes with land use challenges that require careful consideration.

Challenge #1: Size of the project

Wind and solar generation demand more land per unit than fossil fuel generation. New onshore wind turbines can reach the height of a 35-story building, while offshore turbines can be even taller. Developers are wise to balance these large-scale energy projects with existing land uses, such as agriculture, forestry, and wildlife habitat.

Challenge #2: Infrastructure

New energy generation necessitates additional transmission infrastructure. Siting decisions must maximize access while minimizing disruption to existing economies, habitats, and quality of life.

There is also the possibility that these decisions may create tension between local culture and statewide energy needs. Striking a balance requires thoughtful policy and adaptability within existing frameworks.

Four strategies to overcome these challenges

Washington is not the first state to implement these practices. As such, developers and lawmakers alike can learn from prior projects and take step to better ensure success. Strategies that can help increase these odds include the following:

  1. Clear zoning regulations: Municipalities can update zoning codes to designate suitable areas for renewable energy projects. Clear guidelines can help developers and public officials make informed decisions.
  2. Environmental Impact Assessments: Rigorous assessments evaluate potential impacts on ecosystems, wildlife, and scenic views. Mitigation measures can address concerns.
  3. Collaboration: Developers should work closely with agencies like the Department of Natural Resources (DNR) and the Energy Facility Site Evaluation Council (EFSEC) to better ensure success of a proposed project.
  4. Incentives and grants: State programs like the Clean Energy Fund may provide financial support for renewable energy projects. These grants can incentivize responsible siting practices.

Engaging with residents, tribes, and stakeholders early in the process can also help to foster understanding and minimize conflicts. Public input helps to better ensure that projects align with community values.

Washington’s commitment to renewable energy requires a delicate balance between growth and environmental protection. By implementing smart land use strategies and engaging stakeholders, these projects can help communities achieve a sustainable energy future while respecting natural resources and communities.