Thursday, August 13, 2009

World's Largest Solar Highway in Oregon

Oregon was the first state in the US to install solar panels along the highway. It started early in 2008 when Allison Hamilton, an Oregon Department of Transportation project director, watched an episode of the PBS show NOVA that showed solar panels next to the German autobahn.

"Why not do that here?" she thought and in December of 2008, the I-5/205 interchange photovoltaic system powered on.

With business and utility partners, the project has been a big success. ODOT is getting renewable energy at no additional cost, Portland General Electric has added solar to their wind dominated renewable portfolio and in return for paying for most of the upfront costs, U.S. Bank gets the tax credits for 5 years.

With a successful project in the bag, ODOT is looking to "replicate this in spades, and we'll get lower cost per kilowatt," Hamilton said. Oregon now looks to build a 3 megawatt array, the largest solar highway project in the world, bigger than the 2.8 megawatt project recently announced in Germany. Ken Worcester, the city’s parks director, said the solar highway offers an opportunity to tap into the state’s economic stimulus funding. The business and utility partnerships are still being formed for this new project.

The array will be installed near I-205 in West Linn at the site of an old rest-stop area that was closed in 1995. Rows of 17,000 solar panels would stretch 2,000 feet across a terraced hillside of state-owned land. This area is currently being used for heavy-duty equipment storage, gravel piles, wood debris and work sheds. The area is visible from across the Willamette River from the town of Oregon City. I would prefer to look at a solar array than a gravel pile.

Many citizens of West Linn were concerned about a path that was planned to accompany the solar array. “I’m not in opposition to solar at all,” said Bill Weber, who lives on Riverknoll Way. “I am totally in opposition to the trail.” Other residents expressed concern that a path would invite crime into their backyard. The proposed trail would connect to a network of trails. By crossing Salamo Road, walkers could reach another trail through a savanna of rare white oak trees and then connect to another trail in North Willamette Park, completing a giant loop.

Michelle Wittenbrink, a member of the city’s Sustainability Advisory Board, said she hopes the prospective trail won’t become a roadblock to the solar highway. The city has until December to apply for funding for the path.

“This is really a unique opportunity, and it’s the right thing to do,” said Jeff Treece, Marylhurst president. “It improves livability for all of us.”

While this project planning is underway, Oregon is not sitting still. They have begun site evaluations at the Baldock rest area off southbound I-5 in Wilsonville for a 3rd ODOT solar array.

West Linn City Council supports ODOT solar highway

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