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Innovative Partnerships Program
The Oregon Solar Highway
Aerial view of nation's first Solar Highway project.
On December 19, 2008, the nation’s first solar highway project started feeding clean, renewable energy into the electricity grid, and the Oregon Solar Highway has been operating seamlessly ever since. The 104 kilowatt (dc) ground-mounted solar array, made up of 594 solar panels, is situated at the interchange of Interstate 5 and Interstate 205 south of Portland, Oregon, and offsets over one-third of the energy needed for freeway illumination at the site.
 
The project was developed through an innovative, first-in-the-nation public-private partnership between the Oregon Department of Transportation  and Portland General Electric, and U.S. Bank as PGE’s tax equity partner. Through the use of state and federal renewable energy tax credits, accelerated depreciation, and grants offered through the Energy Trust of Oregon and PGE’s Clean Wind Fund, this award-winning partnership benefits PGE customers, including the State of Oregon and ODOT. The Renewable Energy Certificates, which represent the green power produced by the solar array, are retired on behalf of PGE’s customers, including the State of Oregon and ODOT.   
 
While the project sits on the transportation system right of way, it is not owned by ODOT.  SunWay1, LLC, a limited liability company managed by Portland General Electric, owns and operates this solar power plant. Solar energy produced by the array feeds into the grid during the day, in effect running the meter backwards for energy needed at night to light the interchange through a Solar Power Purchase Agreement with PGE.

The success of SunWay1 has led ODOT and PGE to explore further opportunities to put renewable energy onto Oregon’s grid and add value to the public’s transportation system right of way. 
 
In PGE territory, large ODOT-owned areas that could support a solar array – and which aren’t otherwise being used or planned for use – are challenging to find. Through a high-level site evaluation exercise, several properties were considered, with three parcels rising to the top of the list at this initial stage of program development:
  • Expanding the SunWay1 project site (adding 658 panels – about 165 kW)
  • Developing a 1.75 MW project on ODOT-owned land behind the northbound I-5 Baldock Safety Rest Area just south of Wilsonville
  • Developing a 3 Megawatt (MW) project in West Linn at an existing ODOT maintenance yard above I-205

Baldock Solar Highway Project
Artist's redering of the completed Baldock project.
The Baldock project proved the first to move forward, and construction is now underway.
 
 
 
 
 
 

Proposed West Linn Project
After conducting numerous site assessment and public outreach activities in 2010, ODOT determined the site was suitable for a solar highway project, and the site is included in ODOT’s solar highway project site inventory. Due to the requirements of the State’s Business Energy Tax Credit, the project will not be financed until 2012 at the earliest. ODOT has elected to initiate the process to acquire a land use permit from the city of West Linn in advance of project financing. That process includes public notice and a public hearing. Construction would begin after the city permitting process is completed and after financing is in place.

What's Next?
ODOT engaged the services of Alsea Geospatial in Corvallis to undertake a GIS (Geographical Information System) study of all ODOT-owned lands across Oregon, screening them for solar highway potential. Initial screening results are in, and ODOT is continuing investigations on that inventory.
 
Project Development Background
Solar Highway Value-Added Procurement

Because the Oregon Solar Highway Program is currently dependent on state and federal tax credits and grants, the question asked by the project development team was, “What public values are being secured or advanced by the investment of these public resources?” A conscious decision was made by the team to seek more than the lowest common denominator: cost. For the investment of the public resources – state and federal tax credits, utility incentives, Clean Wind Funds from PGE clean energy customers – a higher return on investment could be achieved, a return expressed in the public values that led to that investment:  new sustainable businesses, family wage jobs, renewable energy production, innovative green technology, and national leadership in sustainable development.
 
Multiple public benefits achieved
While the solar project components were not purchased by ODOT, because of the unique public-private partnership in place with Portland General Electric and in consideration of using the state’s Business Energy Tax Credit program, the procurement developed for and used by PGE resulted in selecting solar panel and inverter manufacturers which reflect the state’s public policy objectives, requiring the winning proposers to:
  • Meet strict environmental compliance regulations and commit to end-of-useful- life recycling (product lifecycle stewardship).
  • Meet or exceed current world-leading performance and industry-leading guarantees.
  • Have in place a corporate Sustainability Policy.
  • Describe the relevance of a triple bottom line in company practices.
  • Support or be engaged in training programs for disadvantaged, women and minority-owned businesses.
  • Have a local presence to respond quickly to project needs.
  • Have a proven history and the financial backing to support all product claims and warranties.
  • Support or be engaged in the local community, among other things.
In addition, preference was given for sourcing products within 500 miles or less to support Oregon sustainability policies and LEED certification guidelines.
 
The procurements resulted in the selection of two world-leading, Oregon-based firms: SolarWorld in Hillsboro for the panels and Advanced Energy in Bend for the inverters. And Oregon companies will design and build, operate and maintain the projects.
 
The future is bright!
The Oregon Solar Highway Program and its projects seek to further the usage and understanding of solar energy’s role in greening the nation’s grid, adding value to the existing public right of way, and supplying clean, renewable, home-grown energy to Oregonians. The program is also interested in helping other states develop and implement their own solar highway programs, further supporting solar energy across the nation.
 
ODOT contracted with Good Company of Eugene to develop a “Solar Highway Program Manual,” designed to help other public and private organizations develop their own solar highway projects and programs. To date, 26 states and 14 countries have contacted ODOT for information on this nation-leading program. The manual, funded in part through a grant from the U.S. Department of Energy, will be very useful in this technology transfer.
 
Oregon’s solar highway future holds the promise of over 120 miles of solar highway installations, collecting fuel from the sun for the transportation system of the future – and that future is underway today.
 


Oregon DOT offers special recognition to Portland General Electric for their contribution to this innovative project. Without their willingness to lead the nation and partner with ODOT, this project could not have happened.
 
ODOT further recognizes consultant Lynn Frank of Five Stars International, an Oregon management consulting and professional services firm, for his crucial role in bringing this project to life, including project direction, technical and regulatory energy expertise.

 Updated August 30, 2011
 

For more information, please contact:
Allison Hamilton
Oregon Solar Highway Program Manager
Office of Innovative Partnerships and Alternative Funding
Oregon Department of Transportation
Phone: (503) 551-9471
Fax: (503) 986-3679
E-mail: allison.m.hamilton@odot.state.or.us

Legislative and Policy Background
The concept of generating solar electricity in the highway operating right of way is of keen interest to solar industry providers, state and federal elected officials, the Federal Highway Administration, the Oregon Department of Energy and the U.S. Department of Energy. While “roadside solar” has operated successfully for over 20 years in Europe, it had not been attempted in the United States until the ODOT project. With its commissioning, the Oregon Solar Highway demonstration project extended Oregon’s role as a leader in the development of alternative energy resources and showcases the state’s vision and leadership to meet the energy challenges ahead creatively.
 
Policies and strategies adopted in the Oregon Transportation Plan support this renewable energy project. Policy 4.2 — Energy Supply states that it is the policy of the state of Oregon to support efforts to move to a diversified and cleaner energy supply, promote fuel efficiencies and prepare for possible fuel shortages. Strategy 4.2.1 directs ODOT to support efforts to move toward a diversified and cleaner energy supply. 
 
The 2007 Oregon Legislature instituted policies for the state of Oregon to arrest – and then reduce - its greenhouse gas emissions. In step with this legislative directive, then-Governor Ted Kulongoski directed state agencies to meet their electrical needs with 100 percent renewable resources. Given the constitutional limits on allowable uses of the Highway Fund, this directive proved particularly challenging for ODOT.
 
Fortunately, innovative financing mechanisms using public-private partnerships are available, which can allow ODOT to secure clean, renewable energy — without paying a premium — from assets it already owns. These public-private partnerships use the 50 percent state Business Energy Tax Credit, the 30 percent federal Investment Tax Credit and utility incentives from the Energy Trust of Oregon (available in PGE and PacifiCorp territories) to finance projects, credits which ODOT, having no tax liability, cannot take advantage of on its own. PGE customers further contribute through funds provided by PGE’s Clean Wind Fund. This financing structure makes it possible for clean, renewable electricity to make real inroads into the energy portfolio offered to consumers in Oregon.

NOTE: The Oregon Business Energy Tax Credit is set to expire December 31, 2012. Projects not substantially underway by that date will not receive the tax credit.  Future projects will need to be developed using different financing mechanisms.

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Solar Highway Monitor

See how much energy is being generated at the demonstration project site

Other Solar Highway Projects

- Baldock Solar Highway Project
- West Linn Solar Highway Project

Technical Documents

- Solar Highway Program Manual
- FHWA Volpe Report on Alternative Uses of Right of Way
- Lessons learned
- I-5/I-205 Interchange images
- Solar Assessment for ODOT Materials Lab
- Other utility information to come

Press

- Compendium of Best Practices
- Voice of America Green Stores "Oregon's Solar Highway" (YouTube)
- "Making Solar Inroads" Clean & Green ARTBA
- "Making it Happen" Right of Way Magazine
- "Solar Highways" Rebuilding America's Infrastructure
- MSNBC news story on the Solar Highway (on MSNBC's site)
- PGE, ODOT, partners presented SEPA award
- Project named 2009 FHWA Judges' Award winner
- The Green Economy - Oregon's Solar Highway (YouTube)
- Video of Demo Project groundbreaking (ODOT Web site)
- Video of Demo Project groundbreaking (You Tube)
- Project photos on ODOT's Web site
- Project photos on Flickr
- News release
- Project fact sheet
- Demonstration Project FAQs
- Demonstration Project development timeline
- Partners in the Project
- Artist renderings
- States showing interest in the Solar Highway Project
- Countries showing interest in the Solar Highway Project
- Media coverage

Research

- Health and safety concerns of photovoltaic solar panels
- Safety concerns about electromagnetic fields (EMF)
- US Department of Energy memo on low levels of EMF
- Life-cycle environmental performance of silicon solar panels
- Importance of public-private partnerships in the solar industry
- Avoided carbon emissions from solar vs. sequestered carbon emissions from trees

Renewable Energy Information

- Solar third party PPA financing challenges
- Oregon Department of Energy solar energy information
- Photovoltaics: How and why

Background Information and Presentations

- Video "Solar Energy: Saved by the Sun" (site not hosted by ODOT)
- National Geographic: Plugging into the Sun, September 2009