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Bill passage sets stage for local silicon manufacturing

by CHARLES H. FEATHERSTONE
Staff Writer | March 23, 2022 1:00 AM

MOSES LAKE — A tax break for solar manufacturers championed by Sen. Judy Warnick, R-Moses Lake, passed nearly unanimously during the recent legislative session and is sitting on Gov. Jay Inslee’s desk awaiting his signature.

“I don’t see where he is scheduled to sign it,” said Warnick about Senate Bill 5849, which would extend tax breaks for manufacturers of solar panels and components. “He has 30 days to sign it or it becomes law. I assume he’s going to sign it.”

The bill is one of several put forward this year intended to help promote local investment and possibly encourage the restart of silicon production at REC Silicon. The local plant halted production several years ago following a lengthy tariff and trade dispute with the People’s Republic of China over access to Chinese markets.

According to Richard Hannover, business development director for the Port of Moses Lake, the Warnick legislation is effectively a companion piece to House Bill 1812, which creates a new approval procedure for complex projects intended to help Washington meet its clean energy needs, and S.B. 5901, which provides significant sales tax breaks for large warehouse and manufacturing projects in smaller counties.

Hannover said the new legislation would benefit “Project Riser,” the code name for a major new investment officials with the Port and the Grant County Economic Development Council have been focusing on for the last few months. While he gave no details on “Project Riser,” in an email to the Columbia Basin Herald, Hannover did refer to it as “a new solar manufacturing facility.”

“These bills are at Gov. Inslee’s desk,” Hannover wrote. “We are excited about the opportunities this new legislation can bring to Washington state.”

Warnick’s measure will extend current tax breaks for solar makers for another five years, while S.B. 5901 will allow large warehouses — at least 200,000 square feet or larger — in counties with fewer than 650,000 residents to defer sales and use taxes for up to eight years.

In addition, Hannover said the legislature has included a conditional appropriation of $10 million in upgrades for Grant County’s power transmission needed by “Project Riser” should the company decide to invest in Moses Lake.

Warnick said that unless Inslee vetoes any or all of the measures, they will become law with or without his signature.

However, she also hopes the governor takes time to sign the bills.

“It’s pretty important for this area,” she said.

Charles H. Featherstone can be reached at cfeatherstone@columbiabasinherald.com

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