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Oregon Solar Highway Program

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.

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 French Prairie Solar Stat​ion​.
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.

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:

  • 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.

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.

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.

Email Zechariah Heck
Program Manager
Telephone 503-986-4261


Read all about the French Prairie Solar Station