The Oregon Land Use Board of Appeals has reversed Jackson County's approval of a 37,905-panel solar farm on a 90-acre property along Rossanley Drive just outside Medford.
LUBA reversed the approval Friday after an appeal by 1000 Friends of Oregon, a land-use watchdog group.
Meriel Darzen, staff attorney for 1000 Friends, said her organization is happy with the ruling because it provides case law that will affect the siting of solar farms throughout the state going forward.
In its ruling, LUBA clarified statewide planning Goal 13, which focuses on energy conservation. LUBA said Jackson County interpreted this goal as a mandate, which would bolster the case for the solar farm, rather than just a planning guideline to look for opportunities for renewable energy.
"It doesn't require counties to develop renewables," Darzen said.
The other major issue the LUBA decision resolved was denying an exception from statewide land-use laws to justify building the solar farm because it would be close to an electric substation. The solar farm is outside the urban growth boundary of Medford, while the substation is inside the boundary.
"They were relying on a substation in the UGB to justify development of land outside the UGB," Darzen said.
In addition, to justify the use of the Rossanley property for the solar farm, the developer relied heavily on the substation as the main reason why other alternative locations wouldn't work. Darzen said that going forward developers will have to make a better showing for other alternative properties.
"Hopefully this will help with confusion in other areas of the state," she said.
Opponents, including neighboring landowners, have said high-value farmland should not be converted to a large-scale solar farm. The county approved the project June 14.
"As stated previously, we are not convinced that utility-scale solar development is rightfully considered rural industrial development," the Department of Land Conservation and Development has stated.
Michael Chestone, consultant with Origis Energy USA in Florida, said in an email Tuesday that it's too early to understand the implications of this decision.
"The decision is certainly disappointing, and our team is currently discussing and vetting all options at our disposal," he said. "We will make a decision on how to proceed shortly."
Origis Energy hoped to install solar panels, poles, lines, fencing and other parts of the solar farm. The installation would have employed about 100 people for a short time, and then only one full-time worker would have taken care of maintenance and operation of the $12.7 million project.
Company representatives have said the solar project would be beneficial. Local electricity would be sold to a power company, offsetting the need to build expensive transmission facilities to bring additional power to the Rogue Valley, they said.
Joel Benton, Jackson County counsel, said the county hasn't decided what steps it will take following the ruling.
"At the moment, we're still sort of reviewing it," he said.
The county's main interest in joining the case was to maintain that it had filed all the proper documentation to support its findings, though 1000 Friends disagreed.
LUBA, however, criticized the county for relying on a "staff report" but not providing the report as part of the case. However, LUBA decided not to rule on this issue in light of the other issues raised in the appeal.
"It was a technical issue," Benton said. "We forgot to staple it."
The solar farm would have been built by Origis, but the applicant for the project was OR Solar 7 LLC of Miami.
— Reach reporter Damian Mann at 541-776-4476 or email@example.com. Follow him on www.twitter.com/reporterdm.