By editorial board • 

District raises solar objection worthy of serious state scrutiny

Earlier this summer, we published an editorial dismissing neighbor opposition to solar arrays proposed for farm tracts in the Sheridan and Dayton areas, based on fears of glare, traffic, noise, heat, distraction, emission, bird kill and unsightliness. None of those fears translated to a level capable of withstanding objective analysis.

Opponents sought and received assurance from Cypress Creek Renewables of eventual removal of the arrays at both sites, as well as measures to address increased runoff at the Dayton location, and the county planning commission followed up by imposing conditions designed to ensure compliance. That seemed sufficient to us.

However, the Yamhill Soil & Water Conservation District has since raised a thoughtful objection on a larger scale. Voiced in an Aug. 12 letter to its state counterpart, operating under the umbrella of the state Department of Agriculture, the district’s argument boils down to this:

Why take tracts of prime Willamette Valley farmland out of production when about two-thirds of Oregon’s 98,381 square miles lies on its hot, dry east side?

Why cloud-sheltered Sheridan and Dayton instead of sun-drenched Granite and Greenhorn, Juntura and Jordan Valley, Denio and McDermitt? Are there no suitable sites for 12-acre arrays in the vast expanse of desert stretching east from the Oregon Cascades? After all, the well-watered Willamette Valley represents a major regional, national and in some cases even international food source.

Local authorities lack grounds to address the issue on their own. But the district’s appeal to state officials to consider crafting some new policy on the state level seems well placed.

The district cites Goal 3 in Oregon’s land use planning system, calling for protection of “high-value and other valuable agricultural lands from conversion, unless there is a demonstrated need consistent with LCDC planning goals.”

A solar array approved by neighboring Polk County is already operating on an agricultural tract near Willamina. No doubt it’s easier to monitor and maintain a site like that, given the ready highway access, but operator convenience doesn’t make such siting sound state policy.

The district argues, “Without modification of the current rules and exceptions, the Willamette Valley will continue to lose farmland needed for agricultural production.” It goes on to argue, “Agriculture is land and soil dependent. Solar facilities require land, but they do not require quality soils.”

We believe those arguments are compelling on both counts. We urge authorities at the state level to heed the call being sounded locally.



I suspect transmission line loss may play a significant role.

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