Joshua Dillen
The Baker City Herald

Unity residents weighed in Tuesday night about a proposed solar power farm that would be constructed just north of the town.

About 20 people attended a meeting at the Community Hall in Unity, which is about 45 miles south of Baker City and has a population of 75.

The 2.75-megawatt farm would be built on 23 acres of private land near the junction of Highways 26 and 245. That’s about two miles north of Unity.

Representatives from Enerparc Inc., which is based in Oakland, California, said they hope to begin constructing the solar farm in 2018 or 2019.

“The whole point of this meeting is essentially to address what that may look like,” Project Development Analyst Eric Desmarais told the audience.

“What construction would be like, what the operation would be like (and) any sort of impacts that may happen ... If you do have concerns, we’d love to address them right here,” Desmarais said.

Rancher Bill Moore, who owns property next to the proposed solar farm site, expressed his support.

“I’m an adjacent landowner. I say go full speed ahead. Go after it,” Moore said.

Desmarais said the farm would consist of 6,000 solar panels mounted on galvanized steel racks attached to tracking mechanisms that move the panels so they are always facing the sun.

Peter Davis, associate director of project development for Enerparc, said the power generated by the farm would be sold to Idaho Power. He said it would not affect electrical rates locally.

“Most of, if not all of the energy produced will be consumed here locally,” Davis said.

The solar panels, three utility poles and inverters that convert the DC current to AC current will be surrounded by an 8-foot-tall chainlink fence.

Desmarais said the visual impact wouldn’t be what some expect from a solar farm.

“There’s nothing huge out there,” Desmarais said. “(The solar panels) are designed to collect sunlight, so it’s not like someone is going to be out there pointing a mirror back toward town. It’s not like it’s going to be blinding or anything.”

Local resident Doug Knott expressed concern that the panels would reflect light. He cited a solar farm near Ontario that he said “looked like a silver landing strip.”

Desmarais said the panels that would be used at the Unity project are a dark blue and do not reflect much light.

Desmarais said the noise from the tracking equipment and the inverter hum will be almost imperceptible once you are about 50 feet away. There will also be no lighting at the project site.

Site prep is very minimal. Weeds would be cut down and a gravel road build around the site partly for fire suppression. Maintenance would involve cleaning the panels with low mineral content water two or three times a year, and weed cutting. Desmarais said weeds are not removed from their solar sites because they actually cut down on the dust which can settle on the panels, reducing sunlight absorption.

He said the project also takes into account potential effects on sage grouse and big game habitat.

The cost of the project is estimated at about $3.5 million to $4 million and should pay for itself in about six years, Desmarais said.

He said Enerparc has 25 solar farms in the U.S. and more than 200 globally. Some are as big as 500 acres.

See more in the Nov. 30, 2016, issue of the Baker City Herald.