CENTRALIA - What used to be the site of a coal mine could turn into one of Washington's largest solar projects, after energy provider TransAlta unveiled plans for the site.
The Tono Solar project would generate up to 180 megawatts of electricity. It would occupy nearly 1,000 acres on Centralia Mine site in southwest Washington, which closed in 2006.
The Canada-based company is in the process of getting permits from Thurston County before lining up a contract to sell its power, The Centralia Chronicle reported.
TransAlta said the project will boost the local economy while also contributing to "an environmentally friendly electricity future for the state."
The solar project is the latest in TransAlta's efforts to move toward renewable energy. The company said last year that it plans to have completely eliminated coal from its portfolio by 2030.
TransAlta owns and operates Washington's only coal-fired power plant in Centralia, the largest single source of greenhouse gas emissions in the state.
The plant is slated to be shut down under an agreement reached with the state in 2011. The first coal-fired burner is scheduled to be closed in 2020, followed by the second in 2025.
The mine, which TransAlta bought in 2000, supplied coal to that power plant until 2006 when the company stopped active mining operations.
"The location is good because it's close to transmission lines," TransAlta lead developer Ryan Schmidt said Tuesday during a presentation at Centralia College. "We know exactly what's in the ground, because we put it there when we reclaimed the site."
Utilities and corporate buyers are willing to buy electricity from local providers, Schmidt said.
It would create 300 jobs during peak construction and four permanent solar technician jobs.
"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 said in a statement.
The project would need approvals to convert the land, rezone it from its current forest designation and to allow the solar farm to be built, The Chronicle reported.
"We think we've got a strong set of facts to present about the site," Schmidt said.