By Ted Shorack

The Bulletin

Two solar development companies have been granted approval for a 20-megawatt facility east of Bend.

A Deschutes County hearings officer released a written decision earlier this month approving the solar panels, which will be located off Neff Road.

Opponents will have until 5 p.m. today to file an appeal of the decision to Deschutes County commissioners.

While the project received support at a public hearing in June, some neighbors raised opposition because of the location and scale.

Cathy Jensen, who lives next to one of the two sites, said Tuesday that she and others are still considering whether to appeal the decision.

Cypress Creek Renewables and Oregon Solar Land Holdings expect to generate enough electricity to power up to 2,500 homes per year. Power from the solar panels will be sold to Pacific Power, which has a substation not far from the solar farm sites. Installation of the panels is planned for some time next year.

“We are certainly happy with the hearings officer decision and we don’t see any issues with the conditions he included,” said Jason Carr, a spokesman for the companies.

Conditions required before construction can begin include creating a 6-foot fence around the panels. A tan-colored screen will also be required to be wrapped around the fence, with juniper trees or other natives trees and shrubs along the perimeter.

Carr said the companies have already begun working with neighbors to mitigate any visual impacts the solar panels might create.

Changes to the landscape were the main concern among opponents at the public hearing. About 60 people attended the four-hour meeting and provided comments to the hearings officer, Dan Olsen.

The solar panel sites are zoned for exclusive farm use. Oregon law allows for solar facilities within the zone with a conditional use permit, which can place restrictions depending on whether the soil can be considered high-value farmland. The project also has to be compatible with surrounding agricultural activities.

Olsen determined the project is not located on high-value farmland or arable soils, which allow for agricultural production, and that it wouldn’t affect surrounding uses.

Olsen wrote in his decision that the solar farms could be permitted based on state rules for solar farms on land zoned for exclusive farm use. However, he acknowledged the regulations are ambiguous.

“I think it could have gone either way,” said Jensen. “It was a ledge, and he could have jumped off on either side.”

Olsen’s decision also requires the developers to not install panels that will be more than 8 feet from the ground or power poles that will be more than 12 feet.

The companies commissioned a study to see what, if any, affect the panels might have on pilots flying overhead. The analysis determined the blue panels would not create a glare, threatening aircraft safety. The Central Oregon chapter of the Oregon Pilots Association concurred.

Olsen decided, however, to require the companies to establish a “hotline” seven days a week for pilots, airport officials and law enforcement to use to report instances of glare, which can be corrected by modifying the panels’ alignment.

— Reporter: 541-617-7820,

tshorack@bendbulletin.com

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