Several people involved in ranching and farming in the Fort Rock area have filed an appeal against the Obsidian Solar Project in Lake County, with Obsidian expected to respond to the issues they have raised.
The petitioners have often spoken against the proposed solar project, which would build a 400 megawatt solar park on approximately 3,900 acres in the Fort Rock area. The petitioners have repeatedly said the project will impact agricultural land, does not fit near agricultural land, would create dust issues for neighbors, and would disturb big game winter range habitat.
Obsidian Solar was hoping to begin work on the project in late 2020, to take advantage of federal tax credits which were about to change, and begin producing electricity in 2021. Both timelines have been disrupted by the appeals process the petitioners have initiated with the Oregon Office of Administrative Appeals. Due to the nature of the appeal, the Oregon Energy Facility Siting Council (EFSC) can not continue the process of issuing a site certificate and project order for the proposed solar facility. EFSC has issued a preliminary site certificate application — this document includes what the company needed to have when it submitted its license application.
The petitioners have identified several issues with the proposed solar facility and are asking that EFSC deny the application or alternatively — if it should approve the application in whole or in part — it should impose specific conditions set out by the petitioners in their written document.
“The Proposed Order relies heavily upon assurances by the applicant Obsidian Solar Center that its proposed mitigation measures will be adequate to avoid injury to petitioners and to the public interest,” the petitioners hearing memorandum states.
Though they raise several issues the bulk of their arguments rest on three arguments: impact on agricultural land, impact on water sources, and development more than 600 feet away from a road.
The petitioners argue that the project falls within the Fort Rock Planning Area; around half of the project actually falls within that boundary while the order portion lies adjacent. The petitioners argue that since the project has property within the Fort Rock Planning Area, it should follow the development rules set forth under the Lake County Comprehensive Plan and Lake County Zoning Ordinances which state that development may not take place more than 600 feet away from an already established road.
The petitioners argue that the land is zoned A-2 for agricultural use and that Obsidian has not demonstrated that the land is not viable for agricultural production. The petitioners argue that even if a part of the proposed facility is viable for agricultural use then the entire parcel is considered viable for agricultural use. The petitioners state neither Obsidian nor the Oregon Department of Energy have taken into account that a large solar farm is incompatible with current agricultural practices. The petitioners state that there were ranchers and farmers who were willing to purchase the parcel and to transfer a water right to turn it into crops, but that they were denied that opportunity when the property was sold to Obsidian.
Another major argument the petitioners make is that the project does not have the water sources to keep down dust, which would also impact wildlife, and therefore the project should be denied. The petitioners state that Obsidian is basing the construction of the project on using 32 million gallons of water over two years to keep down dust. They argue Obsidian has been unable to find who will supply them the water, and that the Christmas Valley Water District has not entered into an agreement with Obsidian to supply water and neither has the water district in La Pine.
The petitioners would like to see the project denied or radically changed. Obsidian has until Monday, July 19, to respond to the several issues raised by the petitioners. Senior Administrative Law Judge Joe Allen is hearing the case and according to a timeline published under the case he could potentially reach a decision no later than Tuesday, Dec. 14.