Oregon Changes Siting Rules for Commercial Solar
Governor Kitzhaber recently signed House Bill 2820, which makes important changes to how solar PV facilities are sited in Oregon. Previously, the state Energy Facility Siting Council (EFSC) only had jurisdiction over a solar generation facility with a nominal capacity of 105 MW or more, or on more than 100 acres. Currently, the largest operating solar facility in Oregon is just under 6 MW nominal capacity. As such, it is perhaps not surprising to hear that EFSC has yet to issue permits for a single solar facility. Instead, solar facilities have been permitted exclusively at the County level, but subject to statewide siting restrictions set forth in administrative rules of the Department of Land Conservation and Development (DLCD).
With enactment of HB 2820, the 105 MW nominal capacity threshold is gone. Now, EFSC has permitting jurisdiction over any solar generation project on 100 acres or more of high-value farmland or that has higher-quality soils, or on 320 acres or more of "nonarable" land. Unfortunately, the Legislature did not rectify one inconsistency between HB 2820 and DLCD rules. The rules give local permitting authorities the ability to designate lands that have higher-quality soils, but which are unsuitable for agriculture for other reasons, as nonarable. But HB 2820 contains no such exception. Effectively, there are now two different definitions of nonarable land, depending on whether the permit is being processed at EFSC or at the local level.
HB 2820 also carves out of EFSC's jurisdiction any project site on a decommissioned U.S. Air Force facility that has adequate transmission capacity. This basically means the decommissioned Backscatter radar site in Lake County, which has been turned over to the Oregon Military Department (OMD). The Air Force built significant transmission to the site but never installed the radar facility, which was made obsolete by technological advances. The OMD is in the process of soliciting interest from developers in using the property for solar energy.
Solar Oregon is hopeful that these changes will spur further growth and activity in Oregon's commercial solar sector.