Yamhill County restricts solar arrays on high value farmland

Meriel Darzen
Fri, 04/27/2018 - 11:10pm
Solar Farm in Ontario, Canada by Invenergy, a solar developer looking to expand in Oregon.

‚ÄčYamhill County Board of Commissioners voted yesterday to change the county zoning ordinance to restrict commercial solar installations on high-value farmland soils. The decision is not a complete ban on solar; rather, commercial solar arrays would still be allowed on lower-class soils. Instead, according to Yamhill County planning director Ken Friday, it is a way to protect the county’s most valuable soil, by keeping it free of commercial solar arrays. At an earlier hearing this spring, Friday said there would still be some 180,000 acres of land in the county available for solar arrays. 

Affiliate Friends of Yamhill County supported the change in the County ordinance. Farmer Katherine Jernstedt, who owns a Century Farm and serves as president of Friends of Yamhill County, said the arrays lead to increased fragmentation of farming activities and services, which over time could make farming no longer viable. Friends of Yamhill County has been monitoring multiple proposals for solar arrays on farmland in the County and has been active in submitting comments on these proposals.This decision followed on the heels of neighboring Marion County's decision to place a temporary moratorium on solar arrays on farmland while it conducts a workgroup to discuss the issues. 
Jernstedt praises this decision, "Yamhill and Marion Counties have taken steps to protect against further loss of high value resource to commercial energy installations.  We look forward to the discussion on a statewide level as LCDC revisits their rules on the topic. Everyone has a stake in balancing renewable energy facility siting with preservation of Oregon’s legacy of prime agricultural land, forests, and natural resources."
The debate over allowing ground-mounted solar on farmland has been occurring across the state. Previously, 1000 Friends appealed a Goal 3 exception to allow 100 acres of solar panels on high value farmland outside of Medford. 1000 Friend prevailed at LUBA, but the developer appealed the LUBA decision to the Court of Appeals, which has yet to render a decision. 
Meanwhile there are several very large arrays (up to 7000 acres) proposed on the east side of the state, including the Obsidian solar proposal in Lake County. 1000 Friends has been monitoring the proposal.