The Gala solar power plant in Crook County is the largest in Oregon and covers almost 400 acres.

PHOTO COURTESY OF AVANGRID - The Gala solar power plant sits on about 400 acres of land south of Prineville and produces 56 megawatts, enough electricity to power about 14,000 homes.

Solar power generation in Crook County took a big step forward this past fall and is poised to continue growing in the years ahead.

This past February, SunPower Corp., which is headquartered in California's Silicon Valley, announced construction of the Gala Solar Power Plant. By late October, the 56-megawatt facility was completed and operational.

Located on Millican Road about seven miles south of the Prineville Airport, it was estimated that 300 jobs would be created during peak construction of the solar facility.

"I've often said that in Oregon, we don't believe economic development and environmental stewardship are mutually exclusive ideas," said Oregon Gov. Kate Brown after construction was announced. "The approximately 300 jobs expected to be created by the Gala Solar Power Plant are proof we can grow our rural communities and support a vibrant and innovative renewable energy industry."

According to Art Sasse, director of communications and brand for Avangrid Renewables, which owns and operates the new facility, the Gala plant sets on a 400-acre parcel, about 325 acres of which is covered by nearly 160,000 solar panels.

SunPower installed its third-generation SunPower Oasis platform on the site to "maximize the project's long-term energy production." The company went on to note that product features include 50 percent fewer parts than conventional solar plant systems and "an integrated solar tracker design that streamlines construction and reduces operations and maintenance costs."

The plant generates 56 megawatts, enough electricity to power approximately 14,000 homes, Sasse said.

The Gala Solar Power Plant is the first to break ground in Crook County, but it is not the only solar project that has received land use approval for a solar project. Planning Director Ann Beier said the county has approved five other projects that could at some point come to fruition, although none of them have reached the point of construction.

Although Avangrid has not made any concrete plans to build another solar plant in Prineville, Sasse did say that the company is "just getting started with this one" and is looking at other solar projects in the Central Oregon area.

"It's funny, when folks think of solar and Oregon, a lot of people only know Portland and they think there is not enough sunshine to sustain a solar farm," he said. "You guys (Crook County residents) know better how sunny Central Oregon is. Central and Southern Oregon have a great resource for sun, and they have a growing demand for power. That's a great combination for us."

The Gala plant is the largest in the state, according to Sasse, and many local leaders who have toured the site come away impressed by the sheer size of the facility. It turns out they are not alone.

"We are very proud of the site," Sasse said.

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