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Legal Maneuvers Resist Solar Farms On Farmland In Oregon, Washington

Sarah Swenty
File photo

Two projects that would convert cropland in Oregon and Washington into large solar farms are hitting new bumps.

The Oregon Court of Appeals Thursday issued a ruling that blocks a planned 80-acre solar project on farmland outside Medford in southern Oregon. Florida-based Origis Energy proposed the commercial solar array.

The company went to the Court of Appeals when a state land use board overturned an earlier county approval. Oregon has a state policy and rules to preserve and maintain prime farmland for agricultural use.

Origis Energy was seeking an exemption for its renewable energy project. The appeals court sided with the state’s Department of Land Conservation and Development and the land use watchdog group 1000 Friends of Oregon, which filed the original challenge to the Jackson County approval.

A spokesperson for Origis Energy on Friday said the development team needed more time to assess the situation and would withhold comment for now. The solar company previously pitched its project to county officials as a way to help Oregon meet its goals to promote renewable energy and reduce the use of electricity generated from coal.

In Washington state, a proposed 200-acre solar array on five farm sites near Ellensburg is raising similar issues. An opposition group called Save Our Farms has lawyered up and is pressing the state energy facility siting council to reconsider an April vote to fast-track the Kittitas County project.

In an objection filed with the Washington Energy Facility Site Evaluation Council, Save Our Farms attorney James Carmody asserted that the state council "erroneously concludes" that it can disregard a Kittitas County moratorium on processing commercial solar energy applications.

Seattle-based solar developer Tuusso Energy availed itself of the alternative state permitting process to bypass a county government that appears to be tilting toward banning commercial solar projects on high-value farmland. 

Now semi-retired, Tom Banse covered national news, business, science, public policy, Olympic sports and human interest stories from across the Northwest. He reported from well known and out–of–the–way places in the region where important, amusing, touching, or outrageous events unfolded. Tom's stories can be found online and were heard on-air during "Morning Edition" and "All Things Considered" on NPR stations in Washington, Oregon, and Idaho.