Washington’s Tono Solar project  converts coal-fired plant into solar farm

Washington’s Tono Solar project converts coal-fired plant into solar farm

A former coal mine site in Washington State is in the process of repurposing 1,000 acres of the former mine site into a solar farm. It is part of Washington states plans to reduce carbon dioxide emissions to 1990 levels in less than 2 years from now.

The Tono Solar project involves the construction of a 180MW solar power plant on 405 ha of land. It includes the construction of a substation and related infrastructure, the installation of solar panels and transformers, and the laying of transmission lines.

Tono Solar, which is expected to start producing clean energy as soon as late 2020 and will provide 180 megawatts of electricity. Utilities and corporate buyers are willing to buy electricity from local providers like Tono Solar.

The old power plant contributes 10% of the state’s total greenhouse gases — as much as the emissions from 1.75 million cars. But while the TransAlta power plant’s three tall stacks are still generating electricity from coal, coal-fired energy will only be a memory at TransAlta by 2025 —  with a first burner to cease operation sooner, in 2020. TransAlta is converting the state’s largest coal pit, once a terraced, open-to-the-sky strip mine.

Scalable solar

Solar has the advantage of being scalable — solar systems are designed to handle proportionally very small to very large usage and service levels almost instantly. With scalability comes no significant drop in cost effectiveness, functionality, performance, or reliability. Such scalability is essential to transitioning away from coal-fired power plants like the one in Centralia and toward clean energy sources like solar.

15 miles from the site of the future Tono Solar farm, another renewable energy project is in the works. Skookumchuck Wind Energy Project is expected to produce almost 140 additional megawatts from 38 turbines. Together, the 2 projects may approach the levels needed for Puget Sound Energy customers who currently rely on TransAlta’s coal-fired plant.

Blueprint for the future

TransAlta says the Tono Solar farm project will boost the local economy while also contributing to “an environmentally friendly electricity future for the state.” The solar farm may be able to offset some job losses once the coal plant shuts down, as it is anticipated to provide around 300 construction jobs to build the solar installation.  “This project would be a win-win — providing clean energy for Washington State and good-paying construction jobs and tax revenue for Southwest Washington,” Doug Howell with the Sierra Club confirmed.

Clean renewable energy advocates are optimistic about the TransAlta plant closing and hope that projects like the Tono Solar farm can serve as a blueprint for similar initiatives.

In 2006, the TransAlta coal mine was the last in Washington state to be closed. The coal mining terraforming was so severe that the former town site is currently dominated by two massive ponds.

TransAlta says that it plans to completely eliminate coal from its portfolio by 2030.

Further information

December 18, 2018