Oregon has long held itself out as a “progressive” state, quick to seize on public policies meant to enhance the lives of Oregonians and improve their environment.
It passed the first bottle deposit law in the nation in 1971. As early as 1913 the Legislature laid claim to the entire Oregon coast and in 1967 enshrined public access in the Beach Bill. If it involves conserving, preserving or recycling, Oregon has been in the forefront.
What happens when two of those progressive priorities clash? That’s what’s happening across the state, but particularly in the Willamette Valley, and we’re watching with interest to see how it plays out.
Oregon has strict land use laws and policies meant to preserve farmland. In 2007 Oregon adopted a renewable energy standard that requires 25 percent of the state’s energy to be produced by renewable sources by 2025. As a result, the state offers tax credits and other incentives for the construction of solar energy facilities.
It turns out that flat farmland is ideal for such installations. Several outfits, including a few Capital Press advertisers, have approached farmers in the Willamette Valley offering money for long-term leases to host solar arrays. They’ve found more than a few takers.
Yamhill and Marion county governments are considering barring such development on several higher-quality farmland soil classes. The restrictions would go beyond the current rules established by Oregon’s Land Conservation and Development Commission, which limit solar development on prime farmland to 12 acres.
Down in Jackson County the county commission approved an 80-acre solar facility on high-value farmland by excepting it from Oregon’s land use goal of preserving agricultural land. That project was nixed by the Oregon Land Use Board of Appeals.
We admit to being conflicted.
We believe that private property owners should generally be allowed to use their land for the purpose that provides the highest return. For some, that’s leasing their land to solar energy developers.
At the same time, we know that once farmland is used for something other than farming the soil is often lost forever to agricultural production. Which suggests that all concerned move carefully and the state work out the conflicts in policy.