Seven Questions (and Answers!) About Utility-Scale Solar in Oregon

ODOE’s Energy Facility Siting team is currently working on two applications for utility-scale solar generation, and we expect more proposed developments in the future. Let’s check in on these projects and what utility-scale solar means for Oregon.

What’s a utility-scale solar project?
This term refers to large commercial solar projects that generate electricity and feed it into the grid.

solar-panels

Learn the Lingo:
Solar PV vs Solar Thermal

Solar Photovoltaic projects use solar panels to convert sunlight into electricity.
Solar Thermal projects use sunlight to create heat, which in turn powers a generator that makes electricity.

What kinds of solar projects go through ODOE’s review process?

Generally speaking, local governments have jurisdiction over smaller proposed energy projects, while larger projects are overseen at the state or federal level. For some energy projects, jurisdiction is based on the energy output; for solar projects, the physical size of the facility determines jurisdiction. Oregon’s Energy Facility Siting Council, staffed by ODOE, has jurisdiction over solar PV installations that are proposed on at least 100 acres of high-value agricultural land or other cultivated land or at least 320 acres for all other lands.

How big are the two projects being considered by the Energy Facility Siting Council?

Portland General Electric has submitted an application to amend its Carty Natural Gas facility in Boardman. The amendment request includes a proposed 50 megawatt, 315-acre solar photovoltaic component located just south of the existing facility.

Invenergy, a renewable energy company headquartered in Chicago, has requested a review of a 70 megawatt, 600-acre solar PV facility several miles west of Boardman. Invenergy requested and ODOE approved that the project go through what’s defined in state law as an “expedited review” because it meets the qualification of being less than 100 MW.

How do these projects compare to other solar developments in the state?

They’re much larger. As of February 2017, Oregon’s largest commercial solar facility is the 5 MW Outback Solar Project, located near Lakeview. Other large commercial facilities include the 2.9 MW Steel Bridge Solar facility near Willamina (pictured above) and the 1.75 MW Baldock facility installed by the Oregon Department of Transportation outside of Wilsonville.

Is this move to large-scale solar new?

Yes. For the past 15 years, Oregon’s renewable energy development sector has been dominated by wind power. The market is shifting as solar PV has become more cost-competitive and utilities look to diversify their resources. Commercial solar is priced below $3 per watt, or about two-thirds less than cost-per-watt in 2006. According to the Oregon Solar Energy Industries Association, about 30 MW of solar electric capacity was installed in Oregon in 2015.

Are smaller solar PV projects being proposed in the state?

Definitely. Many counties in Oregon are fielding proposals for commercial projects that don’t meet the threshold for EFSC review. Community solar projects are also underway, and residential rooftop solar continues to be popular.

How does EFSC review work?

EFSC is a Governor-appointed and Senate-approved body responsible for approving or denying energy facilities. To receive permission to operate, proposed facilities must meet the council’s siting standards, which are designed to protect natural resources and ensure public health and safety. The standards cover issues such as land use, environmental impacts, noise concerns, and cultural and archaeological artifacts. Public involvement and engagement with tribes, cities, and other state agencies is built into the EFSC review process.

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