(Photo above :Shane Matheny (Left), Tom Collier (Middle), Paul Smith (Right) | Photo courtesy of Solar Farms | Note: Photos were taken after hours which is why they are not wearing helmets).
Two adjacent solar farms east of Bend are expected to be completed by the end of the year and will serve up to 6,000 total homes in Central Oregon.
The total investment for each project is $20 million including labor, construction and equipment.
The state-of-the-art solar plants feature photovoltaic solar installations that are designed to utilize sunlight by converting it into electricity. The solar panels rotate up to 60 degrees east and west to follow the path of the sun for maximum solar absorption from the morning to late evening.
Developers say the site location is ideal because the farms will be able to interconnect directly into the nearby substation along Highway 20. The 10 megawatts each project will produce can easily be distributed to Pacific Powers’ electric grid to local customers. Since the farms are interconnected into the existing power grid and the renewable energy is fed directly into the transmission the projects will maximize efficiency and decrease energy loss.
The Oregon Solar Land Holdings, LLC land is owned by Tom Collier of Bend and stretches south from Neff Road to U.S. Highway 20 near Erickson Road. The project is owned by Pinegate Renewables. The other farm is on the northern side of Neff Road with land owned by Harland Hafter and the project owned by Cypress Creek Renewables. Each of the two farms are approximately 70 acres.
The project is creating immediate jobs for local contractors and will offer long term employment opportunities once completed.
Amy Berg-Pickett, NW zoning manager for Cypress Creek Renewables in Bend is overseeing the project to completion and is involved with permitting, community outreach, landscaping and revegetation.
“Each solar farm during construction will pay about $2 million each for locally sourced labor. The projects are utilizing local businesses for supplies, dining, fuel, printing, catering and rental equipment. Both projects combined have employed about 200 local people from the area and the state,” Berg-Pickett said.
The two solar farms will create long-term tax benefits, local construction jobs and potentially two long-term jobs for operations and maintenance.
“I like being part of a project that will have long term positive impacts,” Berg-Pickett said.
The project currently employees approximately 75 local electricians and laborers daily. Only licensed electricians are qualified to install solar panels so the project is putting many local electricians to work. A deliberate effort has been made throughout the project to hire Central Oregon contractors first.
Collier has owned his land since 1990 and has been approached by many businesses with plans and suggestions for how to use the property. In 2014 alone Collier was approached by nine different businesses about the prospect of building a solar farm on the land. Collier picked Troy Snyder and Oregon Solar Land Holdings, LLC after considering many other offers.
“I picked Oregon Solar Land Holdings to do business with because every time I asked Troy a question he came back with an answer. I decided to use the land for a solar farm because it allowed me to be a good steward of the land,” Collier said.
Collier has a 20 year lease with three five year extension options for a projected project life of 35 years. He estimates that once the solar farms are up and running each will generate $70,000 per year in property taxes for the county. Solar farms typically have a 30-40 year lifespan.
The energy from the solar farms will stay local to power Central Oregon. There is a purchase agreement in place with Pacific Power. Paul Smith, site supervisor for the project, was very excited when FLS called and offered him a position.
“I wanted solar on my resume and I’m just tickled to be a part of this project,”Smith said.
In line with the green initiative of the solar project. The crew is making every effort to recycle products and has a weekly recycling pickup.
“We do our best to separate pallets and cardboard for recycling. A company picks up both for recycling every week,” FLS Site Superintendent Shane Matheny said.
The project broke ground August 8 and Matheny expects to have the job completed by January 1, 2017. Once complete, the land will have fencing and landscaping that is natural and indigenous to the region. Current plants and vegetation will be protected and enhanced by the project. Those involved with the development of this solar project understand that other companies and land owners in the area are looking at property east of Bend for similar solar plants. They are very much aware of the significance of their work.
“If we stub our toe on this project it affects the possibility of others to follow. This is a high profile project that we need to get right,” Smith said.|
With companies expressing interest in land east of Bend for solar farms the success of this project is certainly one to monitor and the crew tasked with completion is prepared for the challenge.