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Adjacent to farm fields on one side and a safety rest area on the other, the French Prairie Solar Station is a 1.75dc Megawatt solar array at the French Prairie Safety Rest Area, south of Wilsonville on Interstate 5 in unincorporated Clackamas County. The 6,994 panel array sits on about seven acres of ODOT property on the east side of the northbound rest area, producing approximately 1.97 million kilowatt-hours of clean, renewable, homegrown energy annually. Construction began in early August 2011 and the project was placed into service – connected to the grid – just a few months later on January 17, 2012. Today, people can drive through the safety rest area to view the solar highway project and its solar energy interpretive display, bordered by a sustainable community garden.
French Prairie is an all-Oregon project, showcasing what can be accomplished through creative, responsible partnering between the public and private sectors. Partners include:
Portland General Electric procured the project using a value-added public-private partnerships approach. PGE operates and maintains the French Prairie array under a lease arrangement with Bank of America, which financed and owns the project. The energy goes into the PGE grid to serve PGE customers, including the state of Oregon and ODOT. The array, while generating clean energy, also adds value to a piece of publicly-owned land. During design, development and construction, the project supported at least nine different Oregon businesses, and it will continue to showcase those Oregon firms into the future. For example, the security lighting system was designed and built by Portland Habilitation Center Northwest. The lamps are energy-efficient LEDs that only come on if pressure is applied to the “smart fence” or if motion is sensed in the area, making this an energy-wise and sustainable design. In keeping with night sky standards, even when the lights are on, they point downward towards the earth, reducing their contribution to light pollution. Landscaping for the project was provided through a partnership between PGE, ODOT, the Clackamas County Master Gardeners Association and the OSU Extension Service. Master gardeners planted and supervise the maintenance of the water-wise landscape, which features plants that thrive in the hot, dry summers and wet, cold winters experienced in Oregon’s Willamette Valley. These plants require minimal care, providing years of beauty and enjoyment with very little effort – a lot like solar energy!
Because ODOT owns a portion of the Renewable Energy Certificates for this project, which certifies the ownership of green power, from the moment the array was connected to the grid in January 2012, the French Prairie Safety Rest Areas both north and southbound became powered by renewable energy — even when the sun isn’t shining. Ownership of the RECs allows ODOT to state that the equivalent portion of the energy produced is used for the operation and maintenance of the State Highway system — including powering the rest areas.
It cost approximately $10 million to build this 1.75 Megawatt project. These costs were paid for through a partnership similar to the one that paid for the nation’s first solar highway project at the I-5/I-205 interchange. It involves private financing, tax credits, utility incentives and public investment.
Contact Shelley Snow, ODOT Strategic Communications Coordinator, 503-986-3438
View a video on the French Prairie Solar Station
Solar Highway Program
Office of Innovation
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