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Oregon Department of Transportation building nation's first 'Roadside solar' project.

The Oregon Department of Transportation (ODOT) is embracing renewable energy The agency is undertaking an innovative development known as the Oregon Solar Highway project, a public-private partnership with an electric utility and a bank to build the nation's first solar array in a freeway interchange. The first solar panel was installed in August 2008, and the $1.3 million project is expected to be completed in December.

The project's 104-kilowatt solar photo-voltaic system, which will cover 8,000 square feet, will produce about 112,000 kilowatt hours a year. That's 28 percent of the 400,000 kilowatt hours used to light the interchange. The added solar power will be handled through a net metering arrangement with the electric company The solar panels will produce electricity during the day, supplying power to the electric grid, and the electric company will return an equivalent amount of power at night to light the interchange. "Roadside solar" has operated in Europe for almost 20 years.

Oregon's state transportation system uses 45 million kilowatt hours of electricity a year for signals, illumination, buildings, ramp metering, etc. In 2007, the cost for this energy, which comes from mostly non-renewable sources, was $4 million. In February 2008, however, the Oregon Transportation Commission directed ODOT's Office of Innovative Partnerships to work on procuring up to two megawatts of solar energy on ODOT properties, including along the state highway right of way and the interstate system.

Last year, Oregon increased the business energy tax credit (BETC) for renewable energy projects from 35 percent to 50 percent and directed the state to stop the growth of greenhouse gas emissions by 2010. State agencies were directed to meet their electrical needs with 100 percent renewable resources. ODOT is using public-private partnerships to meet directives without paying a premium. ODOT's private-sector partners use the state BETC and the 30 percent federal investment tax credit, along with utility incentives, to finance projects. Eventually, the agency may be able to pay below-market rates for energy, making more funds available for mission-critical needs.

ODOT is considering other scalable and repeatable solar installations on other properties around the state. The third parties will construct at their own expense, own, operate, and maintain the solar systems, and sell all electricity generated to ODOT under a power purchase agreement lasting six to 20 years, or longer. The agency is compiling contact information for solar installers interested in completing solar photovoltaic projects, which it will share with other state and local agencies.

More information is available at www.oregonsolarhighwaycom.

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Publication:Government Finance Review
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Oct 1, 2008
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