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Solar farm on Rossanley clears hurdle

A proposed 90-acre solar farm outside Medford has cleared another hurdle toward approval and a public hearing about the project is now planned for mid-June.

The public can weigh in on the plan to install 37,905 solar panels along Rossanley Drive, also known as Highway 238, at 1:30 p.m. Wednesday, June 14, at the Jackson County Courthouse Auditorium, 10 S. Oakdale Ave., Medford.

The Jackson County Board of Commissioners today approved the first reading of an ordinance to grant the solar project an exception to a state goal to preserve farmland. Commissioners have said the solar farm is an economically beneficial use of the land and doesn't permanently remove it from agricultural production. Commissioners have imposed a condition that the solar farm be dismantled after 30 years so the land can be returned to agricultural use.

A second reading and possible approval of the project could come after commissioners take public input on June 14.

The land development watchdog group 1000 Friends of Oregon plus the Oregon Department of Land Conservation and Development have spoken out against the project, saying farmland with high-quality soil shouldn't be used for a large-scale solar project.

Old mining sites, landfills, parking lots and building rooftops are more appropriate locations than farmland or green spaces, 1000 Friends of Oregon says.

Origis Energy, which is proposing the $12.7 million project, says construction of the farm will employ about 100 people, but the equivalent of only one full-time worker would be employed thereafter for maintenance and operation.

Origis Energy says the locally produced electricity will be sold to a power company, offsetting the need for the power company to build expensive transmission facilities to bring additional power to the Rogue Valley. The project helps Oregon meet its goals to promote renewable energy and stop using electricity generated by coal, the company says.

Reach staff reporter Vickie Aldous at 541-776-4486 or valdous@mailtribune.com. Follow her at www.twitter.com/VickieAldous.