Farming Solar Power
Two 80-acre solar array projects are up and running just outside Madras on North Adams Drive and Elbe Drive as part of GCL New Energy's Oregon projects.
Representatives from GCL New Energy, based in China, were on hand for the ribbon-cutting for the projects July 23, at the Adams Solar Center, which has been online since June 21.
"GCL New Energy is proud to announce completion of phase I," said Xingping Sun, executive director and president of GCL Holdings, who flew in from China for the event.
Through a translator, Sun said that the company is the second largest producer of solar projects in the world, with 192 operating systems around the world, with subsidiaries in North America, Japan and Africa.
"Solar energy is clean and safe energy," he said.
According to Lyle Thompson, senior construction manager for GCL, each of the two local projects uses 39,995 solar panels, each of which has 72 solar cells, installed on arrays that track the sun from east to west.
Each project has five inverters to convert the direct current from the solar panel to alternating current, and send the electricity to nearby power lines. The projects are expected to produce at least 20 megawatts of power.
The Adams Solar Center is located on property under a long-term lease with the Binder family, while the Elbe Solar Center, is being leased from Chad and Amy Smith, of Dry Canyon Farms.
Thompson, who narrated a tour of the solar farm after the ribbon-cutting, explained that ultraviolet light bounces off the panels, infrared light passes through the panels, and the visible spectrum is collected by the panels.
"We could power the wolrd with the technology we have right now," he said.
Asked about the potential for lightning damage to the project, Thompson said that all the panels are redundantly grounded. "In my 11 years (working on solar projects), I've never seen lightning on a solar farm."
Economic Development for Central Oregon's Jefferson County manager, Janet Brown, who has shepherded the solar projects through three different owners over the past four years, also helped obtain land-use approvals through the county and state for the projects, and property tax incentives.
"The Adams and Elbe solar projects are very beneficial to Jefferson County for many reasons," said Brown, citing tax benefits, efficient use of land, plentiful sunshine, job creation, and environmental benefits.
"Each site is 80 acres, and the estimated value of the Adams and Elbe solar sites together is $37 million," she said. "With additional upgrades to transmission lines, the total estimated value for both projects is nearly $40 million."
Currently, the county collects about $70 on the Elbe site, and a little more on the Adams site, Brown said. When the properties are listed on the tax rolls, that is expected to increase to about $40,000 per year for each site.
"This helps all our schools, sheriff's office, county jail, city police departments, public health, public works, fire department, library and many other services we all use," she said.
Brown was pleased that the projects were able to make efficient use of land that has no water rights and is zoned as rangeland, as well as the plentiful sunshine in Central Oregon.
"The Adams Solar Center ties in to the Pacific Power substation just down the road," she said. "This substation feeds our airport-industrial park, which is huge to my work in attracting new companies and helping our existing companies expand."
During construction of the project, Brown pointed out that the companies hired 180 people, with 101 of those hired from the local population.
Finally, she said, "Solar is clean, low maintenance, renewable energy and requires no other fuel than our sun. It renews itself every morning."
By itself, the Adams Solar Center will offset 712 million pounds of carbon over the approximate 25-year lifecycle of the project. "That's roughly equivalent to removing 3,200 passenger cars, or planting 7,150 acres of new trees," she said.
This is a testament to the perseverance of developing a project like this," said George Hershman, president and general manager of Swinerton Renewable Energy, which partnered with GCL New Energy on the project.
When the second phase of GCL New Energy's Oregon project is complete — including the Bear Creek project in Bend, and the Bly project — they will be producing more than 50 megawatts of power, enough to power more than 8,000 homes annually.
"Solar now employs more people than any other energy sector," said Hershman. "Projects like this do their part to provide a clean and bright future."