Yakima Farm Bureau
president stands against solar land rush
YAKIMA, Wash. — Yakima County Farm
Bureau President Mark Herke has not said a word against
windmills, but he has plenty to say about solar panels.
First, he says, don't call hundreds of
acres of panels on steel posts screwed into the ground
"We dropped that term a long time
ago," he said. "We call them solar-industrial complexes."
While cows and sheep can graze around
windmills, solar projects as configured now blot out
agricultural use and take up far more land, Herke says.
He has gathered other objections to
solar projects and presented them to decision-makers on
behalf of the Yakima Farm Bureau and Farm Bureau members in
neighboring Klickitat County.
The Yakima Farm Bureau last year
opposed a 625-acre solar project east of Yakima on
agricultural land, even though the development had, judging
from public comments, local support.
Herke asserts the public has yet to
catch on to how thousands of acres of solar panels might
change Eastern Washington. When he became the county Farm
Bureau's president in 2019, it wasn't an issue. It's become
a top issue in just the past year, he said.
"The solar is coming on faster than
people realize," he said. "We're not quite a lonely voice,
but we're close to that."
It's not just the solar panels that
will take up land, Herke said. To make up for fencing off
wildlife migration routes, developers may have to buy land
elsewhere for the Department of Fish and Wildlife, taking
more property out of private hands.
"I very much predict there will be
more pushback," Herke said. "I guess we're on the leading
Herke, 65, was interviewed at his home
on a hill outside Yakima and the northern edge of the Yakama
It's the same rocky hill where his
great-grandfather from Germany settled in 1871. The Herke
family raises cattle, grows hay, harvests timber and mines
rocks for construction.
Herke is worried about the "green
rush." In Western Washington, the term means stampeding to
recreational marijuana. To Herke, it means the race to build
The Washington Legislature in 2019 set
off the rush by voting to rid the state's electricity of
greenhouse gases by 2045. Only one senator and two House
members from Eastern Washington voted "yes." Complying with
law, however, depends on land east of the Cascades.
"The people pushing it the most would
give up the least — on their livelihoods, their landscape,"
Gov. Jay Inslee and Democratic
lawmakers this year moved to speed up the clean-energy
revolution by expanding the jurisdiction of the Energy
Facilities Site Evaluation Council to include energy-related
The council is made up mostly of
unelected Inslee administration officials and is an
alternative to winning approval from counties for energy
Herke said he fears a more-powerful
state council will further distance decision-makers from the
consequences of the developments. "With counties, at least
you can go and bang on a commissioner's desk," he said.
Asked if there's any good place to put
solar panels, Herke suggests the Hanford nuclear
The Yakima Farm Bureau's position on
solar projects butts heads with property rights. The
625-acre solar project it opposed was supported by the two
landowners who will lease land to the solar developer.
S. Martinez Livestock Inc. told the
state site council that it was leasing ground that gets very
dry in the summer and has little value in the winter as
pasture. The reliable lease payments will diversify income,
but not affect its operations, according to the ranch.
The other landowner said the
unirrigated farmland already was enrolled in a conservation
reserve program, but the payments from the solar project
will be more.
Herke said the county Farm Bureau
wrestled with property rights, but came down on the side of
preserving farmland for future generations. "If you want to
protect farmland, you have to look beyond today and
tomorrow," he said.
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