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1000 Friends to put up a fight

An appeal notice was filed Friday by 1000 Friends of Oregon attempting to block a 37,905-panel solar farm planned on prime agricultural land along Rossanley Drive just outside Medford.

The Jackson County Board of Commissioners on June 14 approved the project by a 2-to-1 vote, with Colleen Roberts dissenting.

The project was opposed by the Oregon Department of Land Conservation and Development and 1000 Friends, a land-use watchdog group. 

1000 Friends filed the intent to appeal with the Oregon Land Use Board of Appeals, though it hasn't yet described the legal reasons for the appeal.

Opponents, including neighboring landowners, have said high-value farmland should not be converted to a large-scale solar farm.

Commissioners 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.

Approval of the solar project required commissioners to grant an exception to a state goal of protecting farmland. The solar farm would be built on a portion of the 90-acre parcel.

The solar farm would be built by Florida-based Origis Energy. The applicant for the project is OR Solar 7 LLC of Miami.

Origis Energy hopes to install solar panels, poles, lines, fencing and other parts of the solar farm in the next few months. The installation would employ about 100 people, and then only one full-time worker would take care of maintenance and operation of the $12.7 million project.

Company representatives have said the solar project is beneficial. Local electricity will be sold to a power company, offsetting the need to build expensive transmission facilities to bring additional power to the Rogue Valley, they said.

Jackson County Counsel Joel Benton said the county won't know the grounds for the intent to appeal until a brief is filed over the next two months.

However, he said that during the county hearings on the issues, the main concern was converting high-value farmland into a solar farm.

He said he thinks the county provided enough evidence to approve the project.

— Reach reporter Damian Mann at 541-776-4476 or dmann@mailtribune.com. Follow him on www.twitter.com/reporterdm.