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.
Aerial view of nation's first Solar Highway project.
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.
In PGE territory, large ODOT-owned areas that can 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 initial project site
- 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 Station
The Baldock project proved the first to move forward, and construction is now complete.
Artist's rendering of the completed Baldock Solar Station.
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.
ODOT is currently investigating the potential for a third solar highway project in rural Clackamas County. While very early in the process, the outlook is positive for a possible 2 MW project in the next few years. Stay tuned!
Project Development Background
Solar Highway Value-Added Procurement
Because the Oregon Solar Highway Program has been 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, 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, 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.
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 designed and built, and now 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.
In 2011, 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, 36 states and 15 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, is very useful in this technology transfer.
In 2012, 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. Study results indicate the potential of more than 100 sites for 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 its contribution to these innovative projects. Without PGE's willingness to lead the nation and partner with ODOT, these projects 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 program to life, including project direction, technical and regulatory energy expertise.
Updated Sept. 4, 2014
For more information, please contact:
Oregon Solar Highway Program Manager
Office of Innovative Partnerships and Alternative Funding
Oregon Department of Transportation
Phone: (503) 551-9471
Fax: (503) 623-4714
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 online.
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 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 may use federal tax credits, funds from utility voluntary clean energy programs, accelerated depreciation, utility incentives from the Energy Trust of Oregon (available in PGE and PacifiCorp territories) and/or other mechanisms to finance projects. These financing options make it possible for clean, renewable electricity to make real inroads into the energy portfolio offered to consumers in Oregon.