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Oregon's Solar Highways

 

All About 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 first Oregon Solar Highway project 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 (RECs), 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. 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 the nation's first solar highway project 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, and in 2011, construction began on the Baldock Solar Station.

 

These projects have sparked imaginations across the nation and the globe. To date, 36 states and 15 countries have contacted ODOT for assistance in developing projects and/or programs.

(Pictured: Artist's rendering of the Baldock Solar Station.)

 
What's Next?
While both projects are considered "successfully complete" and out-performing expectations, the Oregon Solar Highway Program, supported in part by federal funding from the U.S. Department of Energy, is focused on helping others across the country. Working with Federal Highway Administration, we are assisting other state and local departments of transportation develop their own solar highway programs.

 

Project Development Background

Solar Highway Value-Added Procurement

 

Because the two Oregon Solar Highway projects were financed with state and federal tax credits and grants, the question asked by the project development team was, “What public values are being advanced by the investment of these public resources?” A conscious decision was made to seek more than the lowest common denominator: cost. For the investment of the public resources – state and federal tax credits, utility incentives, andClean 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, 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.

  
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 projects. With its I-5/I-205 and Baldock projects, the Oregon Solar Highway program has 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. A detailed policy foundational document is available.

 

The future is bright!

The Oregon Solar Highway Program seeks to further the use of solar energy in greening the nation's grid, adding value to the existing public right of way, and supplying clean, renewable, home-grown energy to Oregonians. Through support from the U.S. Department of Energy, the program is helping others discover this great opportunity, too.

Updated January 2016

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) 623-4714
E-mail: allison.m.hamilton@odot.state.or.us
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Other Solar Highway Projects

- Baldock Solar Station

Technical Documents


- FHWA Volpe Report on Alternative Uses of Right of Way

Siting Criteria (PDF)

- Policy Support (PDF)

- Reflectivity of Panels (PDF)

- Site License Agreement(PDF) (example)

- Carbon Emissions comparison​ (PDF)

Sampling of Media Coverage

 – "Spotlight on Solar Arrays," Public Roads
  

- "Offsetting Transportation's Carbon Footprint," TR News

- "Reaching for the sun," Oregon Business 

- Photon Magazine State Profile: Oregon

- Voice of America Green Stores "Oregon's Solar Highway" (YouTube) 

- "Making Solar Inroads" Clean & Green ARTBA 

- "Making it Happen" Right of Way Magazine

- The Green Economy - Oregon's Solar Highway (YouTube)

- Video of Demo Project groundbreaking (You Tube)

- Project photos on Flickr