Solar developers will have less land to work with in the northern Willamette Valley under limitations received by Oregon regulators.
The Land Conservation and Development Commission voted collectively a week ago to put a few top classes of high-esteem farmland off limits to commercial solar installations, making permanent the temporary rules it approved in January.
The standards apply statewide, however it was the prospect of expanding solar advancement in the northern Willamette Valley that led farm advocates, vineyard proprietors and some conservation groups to push for action. They generally bolstered the limitations that were affirmed, however many wanted the commission to go further.
“The proposed ban on Class I, Class II, prime, and unique soils is the right first step to protect Oregon’s productive farmland,” 1000 Friends of Oregon said in written comments. “We recommend that the commission revisit whether to protect additional sols and farm lands within three years.”
Solar advocates criticized the rulemaking procedure as predetermined and said the rules would hinder the state’s ability to meet its climate goals.
“The rules ignore climate policy and tilt the scales fully in favor of ‘protecting’ farmland from a use that is necessary to abate the worst impacts of climate change and that can be accomplished in harmony with active agriculture,” Nicole Hughes, executive director of Renewable Northwest, a nonprofit backed by renewable energy companies and advocates, said in the group’s comments. “A solar farm is not a strip mall. Instead, it is a public necessity, and these rules fail to recognize that reality.”
Most enormous utility-scale solar projects in Oregon have been worked in eastern or southern segments of the state where it’s sunnier and the contention with high-esteem farmland is less extraordinary than in the Willamette Valley. In any case, falling costs, favorable government policies and transmission accessibility in the valley have made projects that remained under a 12-acre limitation increasingly viable for developers.
The total land under threat appears to be relatively small — around 1,000 acres, less than one-tenth of 1 percent of the valley’s high-value farmland — but department staff found that “the impacts of high-value farmland in certain local agricultural areas have been disproportionate.”
Developers argue their projects can coexist with agriculture, and even maintain ag uses. Clackamas County regulators last year approved a project well beyond the 12-acre limit — 70 acres — because it would double as a commercial apiary. Under the new rules, counties will be able to allow such “dual-use” projects up to 20 acres, although the provision sunsets at the end of 2021.