Residents air concerns during Blue Marmot hearing

A lengthy hearing related to Blue Marmot’s request for a Goal 3 exception on its conditional use permit application was held Wednesday, Oct. 6 by the Lake County Board of Commissioners.

Planning for and permitting development on agricultural land in Oregon is governed by Statewide Planning Goal 3, which focuses on preservation and maintenance of agricultural land for farm use. As Blue Marmot’s proposed solar facility would exceed the acreage limit for how much a non-ag use can impact agricultural land, Blue Marmot must be granted a Goal 3 exception.

Multiple Blue Marmot representatives attended the hearing, along with representatives from the Portland-based business law firm, Stoel Rives, which is representing Blue Marmot.

Project parameters

Blue Marmot is seeking to build a 50-megawatt solar energy generation facility on approximately 610 acres of land, consisting of both privately-owned land and public roads rights-of-way. Approximately 575 acres of the project falls under Lake County’s Exclusive Farm Use or Agriculture Use zoning.

Blue Marmot Project Development Mgr. Logan Day gave an overview of the proposed project. He noted that Blue Marmot has “pretty seriously considered fire” in its plan and will take preventative measures throughout the construction process, along with planning with local fire departments.

In 2016, Senate Bill 1547 was passed, which calls for 50% of Oregon’s electricity to be comprised of renewable energy by 2040. Companies like EDP Renewables, which owns Blue Marmot, were asked to help meet that goal.

Day said Portland General Electric accepted EDP’s proposal to build Blue Marmot on five sites, three of which were on irrigated ag land. However, he added, “it became apparent almost immediately that trying to site on irrigated ag land was a mistake.” Day said PGE eventually “relented” and allowed the Blue Marmot project to move to a single site.

The Duvaroo site on which the project is proposed to be built was originally going to host 10 megawatts but pre-construction surveys on the western part of the property determined it was suitable for 50 megawatts, Day said.

Day said the Blue Marmot solar facility would generate approximately $350,000 per year for Lake County — a total of $15 million over Blue Marmot’s 35-year project life.

A concern previously brought forth by members of the public was the potential for glare from the project. Day said EDP Renewables commissioned an independent third party study which found there would be zero impact from glare.

After getting feedback from the community, Day said Blue Marmot will have a decommissioning bond in place when construction on the project begins. The target construction date is spring of 2022 and the facility is expected to be operational by fall of 2022.

Paul Seilo with Jacobs Engineering Group said the greatest level of noise will be generated during the construction phase, adding, “During operation, these facilities are inherently quiet.”

He said cattle grazing is by far the main farm use on land directly adjacent to the proposed project area and the project “doesn’t alter the stability of the land use pattern in the area.”

Public comment

Rabbit Hill Road resident Joseph Cosentino was the first member of the public to speak. He said despite Blue Marmot’s assurances, he expects “strong glare” from the project. He also claimed that Lake County will not receive any of the power generated by Blue Marmot — a point that came up repeatedly throughout the meeting. Day addressed the claim later in the meeting and said once the electricity hits the grid, “the electrons go where they’re needed” and would likely stay in Lake County. He said the Blue Marmot facility would strengthen the grid in Lake County.

Cosentino said he never would have requested a permit to build his home on Rabbit Hill Road if he had known it would be surrounded by solar. “Logan Day offered me $20,000 to go away,” he alleged toward the end of his comment. He then turned to Day and said, “Logan, you should be ashamed of yourself.”

When Day had a chance to respond to that claim later in the meeting, he said the offer was never framed or meant as “hush money” but as part of EDP Renewables’ attempts to mitigate impacts to neighbors. He said the money was offered to Cosentino so he could “perform whatever visual mitigation he desires.” Day said another neighbor accepted the offer “and feels it’s fitting.”

Local resident Amanda O’Bryan said Lake County has a 160-year history of agricultural development. Referring to the life of the Blue Marmot facility she asked, “We’re going to throw that away for 35 years?” She also took issue with EDP’s tactics for documenting support of the project, noting that the company conducted a door to door campaign asking people to sign a form letter. Day later said residents were only offered the option to sign the letter after they expressed support for the project.

Rabbit Hill Road resident Eric Knerr said EDP’s request for a variance should be denied in order to protect the best interests of surrounding properties, noting that the facility would affect the scenic vistas and ambient noise. He said there are potentially alternative sites for the project but they have not been considered.

Commissioner Barry Shullanberger asked why the project could not be moved further from homes and Day said that there is not time to complete assessments on another property in time for EDP to fulfill its commercial obligation.

Lakeview resident Mike McGowen questioned what EDP’s legal obligation to Lake County will be if it is granted permission to install the project. He also mentioned that technically Blue Marmot IX LLC is the project applicant and therefore EDP Renewables should be asked to guarantee the responsibilities of Blue Marmot IX LLC.

Thomas Creek Road resident Scott Graham said he would challenge EDP to provide a picture of land after one of its project had been decommissioned. The value of the land after the proposed project is decommissioned was brought up numerous times.

Next meeting

The next Blue Marmot meeting will also be an open hearing. It will be held in the Commissioners hearing room on Wednesday, Oct. 20 at 4 p.m. The record will be left open until the close of that meeting, after which time the applicant will have until close of business on Friday, Oct. 29 for written rebuttal.

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