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"Hot new crop on a 24-hour rotation"

After looking into alternative energy about three years ago, Farmer Don Christensen decided to diversify his crop and get into solar. By mid-October, his nine acres, and almost 12 nearby, will be hosting the largest ground-mounted solar arrays developed in Oregon to date. The two sites, located west of Amity, will create a combined 2.85 megawatts. That's enough to supply a city of 2,300, which is half again Amity's size.

"Hot new crop on a 24-hour rotation"

Solar panels being installed on Don Christensen's farm. photo by Marcus Larson /News-Register

By Edward Stratton
Yamhill Valley News-Register
>> click here to read original article

Farmer Don Christensen doesn't see any difference between using the sun to grow plants and using it to generate electricity.

After looking into alternative energy about three years ago, he decided to diversify his crop and get into solar. By mid-October, his nine acres, and almost 12 nearby, will be hosting the largest ground-mounted solar arrays developed in Oregon to date.

The two sites, located west of Amity, will create a combined 2.85 megawatts. That's enough to supply a city of 2,300, which is half again Amity's size.

The solar panels making up the arrays are being installed by a French company called enXco, which also plans to oversee their operation.

The company has signed 25-year contracts with the owners for lease of the two farm tracts. It has also signed a 25-year contract with Portland General Electric for sale of the resulting power.

Troy Gagliano of enXco said local farmers have been particularly receptive to solar energy production.

"If you lease your land for solar, you get a very predictable amount of income each year," he said. "The leases often have a guaranteed minimum."

He noted, "You can't get that deal growing grass seed."

"What we do, when we farm, is take the sun's energy and make it into food," Christensen said. "We're just skipping the plant in solar ranching."

The other site, lying along the Bellevue Highway, is owned by Steven Goffena. He also has a flat-rate lease deal with enXco, which is assuming all of the risk.

Together, the two arrays are costing enXco about $11 million. At the end of 25 years, it will have to either pull out or negotiate new terms with its partners.

"I view it as a 25-year fallow rotation," Christensen said. If the lease can't be renewed on favorable terms, he said, "I'll clean it up and put in hazelnuts or whatever's good."

PGE is equally happy with the deal. Steve Corson said the company agreed to the project about a year ago and is eager to see it begin to pay off.

The county and neighbors seem fine with it as well. Some concerns were expressed when it was heard by the Yamhill County Planning Commission last fall, but they were largely satisfied.

"It was not really strong opposition to the project, but more what it would look like," said County Planner Ken Friday. "We ordered screening around the parts of the project that would be most visible to the public."

Gagliano said enXco uses vibration rather than head-on pounding to drive the piles anchoring the arrays. He said that holds the noise down.

He said the company will be fencing the arrays and planting shrubbery between the road and fencing as a buffer.

PGE's integrated resource plan, approved by Oregon Public Utility Commission in November, calls for it to achieve a 15-percent reliance on renewable energy sources by 2015. It's currently in the 9-10 percent range, so has a lot of ground to cover in a relatively tight timeframe.

That's where projects like this one come in.

Solar still accounts for only a sliver of PGE's output. In fact, it doesn't even qualify for a separate entry on PGE spreadsheets.

PGE lumps solar in with wind power. Note is taken by way of an asterisk.

However, Corson said the company is open to both commercial projects like enXco's and household projects capable of making small contributions through its net-metering program. Already, he said, "We have many customers contributing to the power grid through net-metering. When your demand for electricity is greater than you use, you can sell it back into the system."

He said PGE is also getting wind power contributions that way.

When customers install solar or wind generators on their property, they qualify for a free bi-directional meter. It debits them when they are consuming more than they are producing and credits them when the opposite is true - something utilities around the state and nation are moving into as well.

Home installations may also qualify for state and federal tax credits, along with cash incentives from Oregon Energy Trust.

 
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