The Little Solar Station That Could
The Columbia Generating Station, a nuclear power plant at Washington state’s Hanford nuclear reservation, sits just one mile from the White Bluffs Solar Station. For the past three weeks, Energy Northwest, the Pacific Northwest’s nuclear power producer, has been generating a tiny amount of electricity from solar panels at White Bluffs and selling it to the Bonneville Power Administration. Energy Northwest says it’s experimenting with solar power because it would like to be known as an environmentally conscious utility, and because it recognizes a growing market demand for clean energy. Still, the experiment is minuscule; the 1,200-megawatt nuclear power plant produces enough juice to power metropolitan Seattle, while the 38.7-kilowatt White Bluffs produces enough to light six houses. There’s also a price disparity; although solar power from White Bluffs is affordable thanks to subsidies, the average national cost for electricity production is 8 cents per kilowatt-hour, while solar generally costs 20 to 25 cents per kilowatt-hour. Still, the BPA says it’s happy to buy supplementary power from White Bluff, and the experiment could mark a shift in Northwest power production trends.