Support local renewable energy projects

Submitted by OPALCO

Earlier this year OPALCO requested changes to the Comprehensive Plan regarding land use designations and now those changes are being reviewed by the San Juan County Planning Commission. Members can submit comments to the Planning Commission regarding OPALCO’s requests.

The energy world is changing dramatically due to climate impacts and the transition toward renewable power. The goal of the state and nation is to transition away from fossil fuels and heat our homes and fuel our vehicles using electricity. This lofty goal is proving to be highly challenging for the islands and communities across the nation.

The dilemma we are facing is to figure out how to satisfy increased demand for electricity while the supply of carbon-free firm power shrinks. As more coal plants shut down and are replaced with intermittent resources (solar and wind), energy blackouts are predicted.

Given our remote location, the best bet for clean and affordable power is to build renewable generation projects locally. In order to do this, OPALCO needs STRONG community support and to change antiquated land use designations that date back to a time when diesel generators were the option.

The first change OPALCO requested is to add a new land use to the “Agricultural” and “Forestry Use” designations to include “Agri-Solar generation”. This would encourage increased local renewable energy and diversify farm income to improve the stressed economics of local food productions. It would allow permitting for agri-solar generation in rural areas & AG Resource Lands and it would allow conditional use in Forest Resource Lands.

The second request is to add a land use to “Utilities Uses” and would be called “Utility Renewable power-generation facilities” for modern renewable energy systems that are clean and quiet, unlike legacy non-renewable power generation systems that may be deployed in the code’s current “Commercial power-generation facilities.” The current land use designations exclude utility scale solar projects from 63% of land in San Juan County – which makes agricultural dedicated land as one of the only options for these projects. It would allow for provisional/conditional use permitting for utility renewable-power generation facilities in all rural designated areas and “AG Resource lands”, and conditional use in “Forest Resource Lands”.

On June 21st and continuing to July 19, the San Juan County Planning Commission will hold a public hearing about the requests. These two requests are critical for OPALCO to be able to install utility scale renewable energy sites which will support everyone in the community as the energy world changes. Having local renewable generation is going to be critical as the mainland power sources become increasingly unreliable.

With increasing amounts of grant opportunities it is important for OPALCO to have permitting certainty to meet the grant requirements and access these funds. Members can make public comment to the Planning Commission in support of more renewable energy in the islands. Please send all public comments to by July 18. Comments should refer directly to one or more 2024 Docket requests.

For more information on the 2024 Annual Docket Staff Report and Public Hearing find it here:

Orcas Power & Light Cooperative (OPALCO) is our member-owned cooperative electric utility, serving more than 11,400 members on 20 islands in San Juan County. OPALCO provides electricity that is 97% greenhouse-gas free and is generated predominantly by hydroelectric plants. OPALCO was founded in 1937. Follow OPALCO @OrcasPower on Facebook and Twitter.