One proposed solar farm may have run into a land-use roadblock locally, but a second north of Medford will be able to turn on the lights for up to 2,000 homes at the end of December.
The 37,000 sun-tracking panels are being positioned on 44 acres of a 68-acre property at 5842 McLoughlin Drive, along with inverters, power poles and driveways. The facility will produce 9.9 megawatts of electricity.
"The power that we are producing is then put into the grid, and the local utility disperses the power to homes and businesses," said Jeff McKay, spokesman for Cypress Energy Renewables of Santa Monica, California. The company began construction on the site in early November.
The solar farm is clearly visible from Foothill Road, north of Vilas Road, presenting a silver sheen over the area where the panels and their footings are being installed.
According to Cypress Creek, the clean energy from the panels would cut out 23,500 tons of carbon annually, which would be equivalent to planting 350,000 trees or taking 1,400 cars off the road.
Cost of construction is about $13 million, with another $7 million in development costs, according to Cypress Creek.
A solar farm is a permitted use on exclusive farm use land but is limited to 20 acres. As a result, county planners approved the 44-acre proposal under a state exception process.
McKay said his company is pursuing other solar farms in Oregon, particularly in the northern and central regions of the state.
Even though energy prices have dropped somewhat, McKay said his company is committed to more solar installations.
"We obviously still feel it makes great economic sense to continue to build them," he said.
McKay said the ability to build a solar farm based on land-use policies varies from state to state and even from county to county. He said land-use policies in Oregon make it somewhat more difficult to develop a solar farm.
Backers of another solar farm on a 90-acre property off Rossanley Drive just outside of Medford recently lost an appeal for the project with the Oregon Land Use Board of Appeals. Opponents of the project argued that the proposed site was prime farmland.
Rooftop solar panels are a common sight throughout Jackson County in residential areas, and on businesses and government facilities. But county planners say this would be the first commercial solar facility in the valley.
Even though solar has become more popular, there are some economic hurdles ahead.
"There's a lot of cheap power out there, and the incentives go away," said Buzz Thielmann, president of Oregon Energy Green and a solar pioneer in Southern Oregon.
With market forces at work, Thielmann said, the price of solar will have to drop, even though great strides have been made in providing solar power in recent years.
"The market has changed dramatically," he said. "Solar will have to stand on its own two feet."
Subsidies and tax credits are also disappearing. A $6,000 state tax credit for residential rooftop solar expires at the end of this year, Thielmann said.
But companies such as Pacific Power are on target to produce 85 percent of their expected load growth from renewables, Thielmann said.
Even with the headwinds, solar is much cheaper than it used to be, he said.
"Right now the cost of producing solar energy has dropped," Thielmann said. "There is a ton of solar energy in the grid."