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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. Public-Private Partnerships Make It Work
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. The Renewable Energy Certificates, or RECs, which represent the green power produced by the solar array, are retired on behalf of PGE’s customers, including the state and the Oregon Department of Transportation. 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.
Because the two Oregon Solar Highway projects were financed with state and federal tax credits and grants, the project development teamed asked, “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, and 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.
In addition, the winning contractors had to:
ODOT has a guidebook available to inform state Departments of Transportation of the process for developing solar photovoltaic, or PV, projects in the highway right-of-way. The goal is to help others navigate the process towards a successful solar PV installation by providing step-by-step information, case studies and additional resources. The information presented in the guidebook is based on the experience of the Oregon Solar Highway Program as well as industry best practices.
Solar Highway Program: From Concept to Reality - Guidebook
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 several decades 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.
Check out the Solar Highway Program Guidebook
Read all about the French Prairie Solar Station
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