The Land Conservation & Development Commission (LCDC) is on track to establish rules that will affect how communities site large-scale solar facilities in the central and eastern parts of Oregon, thanks to a wide-ranging package on working lands passed during the 2023 legislative session.
We track the pulse of land use concerns in the state, watching for trends and especially fielding site-specific requests through our Report a Land Use Issue portal, and it’s clear that most everyone has some questions on solar siting.
So let’s dig in with a primer – where 1000 Friends of Oregon stands, how we’ve been impacting legislation, what’s next for solar in Oregon, and what you can do if a large-scale facility arrives nearby.
Where does 1000 Friends stand on large-scale solar siting?
1000 Friends of Oregon supports efforts to streamline processes to help meet Oregon’s renewable-energy goals. Making it easier to achieve these goals is a must if we’re going to meaningfully address climate change.
But, like most land use concerns, there’s nuance in the matter. Large-scale solar facilities, which can be anywhere from a few hundred to 10,000 acres or more, have the potential to seriously disrupt and displace farming and ranching operations. Some locations have fewer impacts than others. 1000 Friends seeks a pathway that protects farm and ranchland from speculation and development and directs solar to least-conflict areas commensurate with the existing transmission capacity available.
No matter where we place solar facilities, they will take the place of something else, which is why we can use this opportunity to support multiple land uses by establishing solar facilities on sites with least conflict – especially away from high-value soils or wildlife corridors. Because when we drop solar facilities onto valuable farmable land, we risk permanently changing it in a way that no longer can sustain future farming.
And we know everyone needs some certainty around what’s happening with solar siting in Oregon. As some communities are already discovering, projects are in motion based on existing rules, ahead of LCDC’s new rulemaking.
What’s next for solar in Oregon
Last year, 1000 Friends helped convene a large, diverse group of stakeholders that spent months dedicated to the dynamics and needs at play in siting large-scale renewable energy facilities, and in particular solar energy facilities. Our work went into a variety of bills during the 2023 legislative session, with our main focus ultimately incorporated into HB 3409. That legislation directed LCDC to undertake two new efforts, which 1000 Friends will participate in.
Guidelines for Oregon’s counties, coming soon
LCDC is working to adopt administrative rules that will guide counties in how they should consider a photovoltaic solar power generation facility as a "rural industrial use" in proposals to locate such a facility on resource lands. This rulemaking is scheduled to be completed by November 2023.
Streamlining the low-conflict siting for Eastern Oregon, coming by 2025
LCDC must also establish criteria to identify lower-conflict areas in Eastern Oregon where large-scale solar facilities could be located under a more streamlined process. The criteria will take a few factors into account:
- the land’s suitability for contributing to the state’s clean-energy goals;
- the site characteristics, including resource potential and proximity to current and future transmission access; and
- the ability to readily avoid negative impacts on natural resources, forestry, habitat, agriculture, community needs, and historic, cultural, or archeological resources – or to readily minimize or mitigate those negative impacts.
These rules must be adopted by July 2025.
What’s in place now?
Existing rules from LCDC apply to solar facility siting on farmland. (Back in 2015 we published a guide on the laws governing solar siting – outdated, but still useful for anyone who wants to get acquainted with the background.) Until LCDC adopts the rules mandated by HB 3409, older laws remain in place to govern when, based on size of the project, an application goes to a county for a decision, and when it goes to the Energy Facility Siting Council (EFSC). Projects like the one in Muddy Creek are already in motion under these existing rules.
As is, large-scale solar facility applications are almost always proposed for farm or ranch land, because of the nature of where the solar resource is greatest, where energy transmission lines already exist, and other factors.
What can you do?
Getting involved early at the local level is the most effective way to impact the future of a project in your community. In fact, the first of Oregon’s land use goals established in 1973 enshrines this power on Oregon’s people to be involved with local land use decisions. Stay engaged in your county’s land use decisions, and sign up for alerts if you can.
If you see a project you’re concerned about, let us know. Often, local advocates are the first people to make us aware of a project we should get involved with.
And, perhaps most importantly, let your local leaders know when they’re making a decision you support. Especially when the new LCDC rules come into play, we hope to see large-scale solar projects on sites that don’t interfere with valuable farmland and habitat.
Sign up for our email alerts. Our emails are the way to know when 1000 Friends takes action on a local issue or urges your community to speak out. You’ll get statewide info as well as action alerts catered to your region so that you can get involved quickly where it matters most to you.