Solar panels in woodsAbout four miles from the town of Cle Elum, Wash., there is a large, flat piece of land surrounded by a ring of 50-foot-tall Ponderosa Pines. The area has been repeatedly logged over the last few decades and is now relatively treeless. But it may soon be home to an entirely different sort of renewable resource.

The land has been purchased by investors who want to build a 400-acre solar park that would generate 75 megawatts of renewable energy — enough to power 45,000 homes — making it the largest solar photovoltaic facility in the world.

The world’s largest solar park … in Washington state? Why yes, says Howard Trott, the managing director of the project. Contrary to popular belief, this area of the state (about 80 miles southeast of Seattle’s notorious gray skies) enjoys over 300 days of sunshine a year — plenty enough to move Washington state into position as the second largest solar producer by megawatt in the U.S., behind California.

Solar cellIf all goes as planned, the Teanaway Solar Reserve would also include a solar manufacturing facility that would construct the photovoltaic panels needed for the park and then go on to produce versions appropriate for residential customers. All told, the project would create “hundreds of new family-wage manufacturing and construction jobs” in the area, Trott says.

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It would also extend Washington state’s leadership in the emerging clean-energy economy, says Sen. Maria Cantwell (D-Wash.), who worked closely with Sen. John Ensign (R-Nev.) to ensure that critical tax incentives for renewable energy did not expire at the end of last year.

Before construction can begin, the Teanaway Solar Reserve project must survive the local permitting process, which could take about six months. But Trott is hopeful that by 2011, they’ll be up and running — and showing the rest of the country that Washington has a bright future in solar energy.

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