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Sunny future

Jackson County's first-ever commercial solar farm proposed for north of Medford could power the equivalent of almost 2,000 homes a year and kick-start an emerging industry, planners say.

“I think we’re going to see more of them,” said Kelly Madding, director of Jackson County Development Services.

Santa Monica, Calif.-based Cypress Creek Renewables, which has formed a separate company for the project called Norwest Energy 7 LLC, has proposed building the commercial solar power generation facility on a 68-acre property owned by Fang Yen Hon and other partners at 5842 McLoughlin Drive. The site is midway between Highway 62 and Foothill Road, about one mile north of Vilas Road.

The solar panels, which would track the sun, would be positioned on 44 acres of the property along with inverters, power poles and driveways.

According to Cypress Creek, the facility would generate 9.9 megawatts, which would provide electricity to 1,975 homes a year. The company estimates that the power from the panels would cut out 23,500 tons of carbon annually, which would be equivalent to planting 350,000 trees or taking 1,400 cars off the road.

A public hearing on the project will be held before Jackson County commissioners at 1:30 p.m. Wednesday, April 6, in the Jackson County Courthouse auditorium, 10 S. Oakdale Ave.

A solar farm is a permitted use on exclusive farm use land but is limited to 20 acres. As a result, county planners recommend that the 44-acre proposal be approved under a state exception process. The exception would be allowed only for this limited use.

Rooftop solar panels are a common sight throughout Jackson County in residential areas, businesses and government facilities. But county planners believe this would be the first commercial solar facility in the valley.

Cypress Renewables partners with landowners, utilities and communities to install solar facilities that produce electricity at below market costs. According to the company website, it has invested $1 billion in solar projects throughout the U.S. that provide power to 1.5 million homes.

The company leases land from private owners, providing a long-term income. Once the lease ends, the company says it removes all the equipment and returns the land to its former state.

Jeff McKay, spokesman for Cypress Renewables, said an average cost to build a project of the size of the McLoughlin Road facility would be in the neighborhood of $15 million to $20 million.

Typically, leases run about 15-20 years with options to renew. McKay said solar panels last about 10 years, and are then replaced with newer, and sometimes more efficient, panels.

McKay said his company reaches out to landowners who are interested in developing an income on their properties.

“We are kind of looking out for farmers and other landowners with bigger properties,” he said.

The average project is about 5 megawatts in size, McKay said.

His company receives enough income from the electricity it sells to a utility company to pay back its investment, he said.

The company has been expanding operations into multiple states and sees a promising market in Oregon, McKay said. He said he anticipates other solar panel facilities could be located in this area in the future.

If the county approves the project, McKay said his company could begin building the facility fairly soon.

“If everything goes great Wednesday (April 6), we’d love to start moving forward and potentially have it up and running by this year or the beginning of next year,” he said.

Reach reporter Damian Mann at 541-776-4476 or dmann@mailtribune.com. Follow him on Twitter @reporterdm.

This is an example of one of Cypress Creek Renewables' solar farms. Photo from http://ccrenew.com
Jackson County's first commerical solar farm is proposed on a 68-acre property in the 5800 block of McLoughlin Drive north of Medford. Mail Tribune / Denise Baratta