TransAlta announced earlier this week that five entities in Lewis County will receive grants for solar projects, contingent on separate Washington State Department of Commerce grants.
“I’m just very thankful that TransAlta has this opportunity and that they funded this grant,” said Napavine School District Superintendent Geoff Parks, whose district was awarded one of the grants.
The grants totalled more than $520,000 in Lewis County, alone. Across the state, the TransAlta Centralia Coal Transition Grants Energy Technology Board awarded $3.2 million to fund 18 proposed solar projects.
Bob Guenther, a member of the TransAlta Centralia Coal Transition Grants Energy Technology Board, said the grants have gone to programs with statewide significance. According to a press release from TransAlta’s Coal Transition Board, the projects are intended to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by as much as 35,000 tons over the life of the systems.
“35,000 tons — if 1631 should pass — 35,000 tons of greenhouse gases would be worth $15 per ton,” Guenther said. “… That’s the amount of money this will save producers in greenhouse gases. They will save that much money by not producing that much greenhouse gas out of their (facilities). That’s just one way to look at it — 35,000 tons of greenhouse gas is not going to be cheap to produce in the state.”
These grants are contingent on award recipients also receiving grants from the Washington State Department of Commerce. Lewis County Commissioner Edna Fund told The Chronicle Monday that the TransAlta grant recipients are slated to know about the status of their Department of Commerce grant applications in December.
“There’s no way that we could actually grant enough money to do (these projects) without the help of state government,” Guenther said. “So basically … those grants we have awarded will be used as leverage toward their project. The money that we grant will be leveraged through a state grant program.”
In Lewis County, the Napavine School District, Morton General Hospital, the City of Mossyrock, the City of Napavine and the City of Winlock were all awarded funds for various projects. The cities of Napavine and Winock did not respond to multiple requests for comment.
Parks said the district could also use the solar panels it plans to install as an education tool. He said the school district will look into placing Student Engagement Solar Dashboards in the schools as tools to discuss the solar panels with students. The dashboard will help educate students on the energy technology, engineering and how much power the panels produce.
The district plans for the panels to partially power the elementary school, and believes the project will reduce energy consumption at the elementary school by 8 percent.
“We’re going to put in a solar system on the middle school gym, basically at the elementary school,” Parks said. “Basically what we’re doing is ... trying to generate some of that green energy and lower our own energy costs a bit.”
At Morton General Hospital, Facilities Manager Jeff Robbins said the total project cost for the solar panels is $247,000. The TransAlta Coal Transition Board grant is for just under $124,000.
“It will go into our main power system,” Robbins said. “It won’t power anything specifically. It will be more into the general power grid. It will be on the roofs here. I had people come out and look at it, but they didn’t give me (all the details).”
Robbins said he believes the panels will go on the southern roof.
In addition, the hospital received a grant to replace lights on the first floor of the hospital with an LED system. This grant is also from TransAlta, but separate from the solar project grant. It’s part of the hospital’s overall goal to be more green. Robbins said he wants to move the whole hospital toward using LED lights.
“I’m hoping to get all of our approvals by the end of the year, if possible,” Robbins said. “We probably won’t start putting lighting or panels on until next year.”
Mossyrock City Treasurer Angeleetta Hartmann told The Chronicle Monday that the city will use the solar panels to help with electricity and heating the community center. Mossyrock’s TransAlta grant was for $69,935.
These grants are a result of an agreement between TransAlta and the State of Washington that the Centralia plant will transition off coal. The company will invest $55 million to ease this transition, with $25 million earmarked to fund energy technologies.
“I just think that (this) a big deal to the entire state,” Guenther said. “If you look at those installations, they’re all over the state and that’s what TransAlta said it would do in that letter of agreement.”