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Oregon State University Planting Seeds for “Solar Farm” on Campus as Part of OUS Program

published: 2012-12-07 14:30

SolarCity Breaks Ground on Two Campus Ground-Mounted Solar Systems

SolarCity has begun construction on two large arrays of solar panels on agricultural lands operated by Oregon State University as part of “Solar by Degrees,” a large-scale, photovoltaic power program coordinated by the Oregon University System.

The two ground-mounted OSU solar arrays, which cover a combined four acres, are scheduled to go online in January. The larger site, with a capacity of 450 kilowatts, is located adjacent to Trysting Tree golf course just east of the Willamette River; a second site, of about 300 kilowatts, is located on the bike path just east of the Benton County Fairgrounds near 53rd Street.

“With Solar by Degrees, one of OUS’s five renewable energy demonstration projects, we have already come further down the path of climate neutrality than most other university systems in the country,” said Alice Wiewel, director of capital planning and construction for the Oregon University System.

Brandon Trelstad, OSU’s sustainability coordinator, has worked for several years to help set up these projects. He said the Solar by Degrees initiative will offer electricity rates that are lower than the university’s utility rates, allowing “meaningful long-term energy cost savings.”

“For Oregon State University, energy efficiency is still a top priority but solar power will play an increasingly key role in reducing our greenhouse gas emissions,” Trelstad said. “There is no way OSU can invest in renewable energy infrastructure at this scale without developing public-private partnerships. A power purchase agreement structure enables us to utilize renewable energy without the upfront cost – and in fact, we save money over time.”

Under a Power Purchase Agreement (PPA), OSU is leasing land to SolarCity, which installs, owns, maintains and operates solar equipment tied to the electric grid “downstream” from OSU electric meters. OSU purchases renewable electricity generated by the solar equipment at a rate lower than from the local utility, Trelstad said, but still relies on the utility to provide whatever power is needed beyond what the solar system can produce.

There is no capital cost to OSU; only incidental expenses during construction associated with project management.

“SolarCity is proud to play a part in Oregon State’s ambitious efforts to produce and consume cleaner energy,” said Rob Lavigne, SolarCity regional vice president. “The university is also showing its students how institutions can rise above the status quo and take a leadership role in addressing the world’s most pressing challenges.”

SolarWorld, the largest United States solar manufacturer, supplied more than 3,000 high-performance solar panels for the installations. SolarWorld manufactures solar technology, from raw material silicon to finished solar panels, in Hillsboro, Ore., at its 97-acre U.S. manufacturing headquarters.

Trelstad said OSU hopes to add more solar panels on other sites for a total of 10 acres, including the two sites now under construction.

“It was a challenge to meet the major logistical requirements of a project like this, which include setting aside available land, proximity to an electrical load and ability to connect to the electric utility,” Trelstad said. “Luckily, we have great support from the College of Agricultural Sciences and are working out ways in which the land around the solar arrays can continue to be productive.”

When operational, the two OSU solar arrays should produce more than 860,000 kilowatt hours annually at the combined sites, according to Trelstad. That is equivalent to reducing carbon dioxide emissions from 66,675 gallons of gasoline, eliminating greenhouse gas emissions from 117 passenger vehicles, or offsetting CO2 emissions from the energy use of 51 homes for a year.

Trelstad said the Oregon University System’s Solar by Degrees program aligns with the carbon reduction goals of the State of Oregon and Oregon Gov. John Kitzhaber, as well as the American Colleges and Universities Presidents’ Climate Commitment to reduce carbon footprints, for which nearly 700 campuses have signed up.  OSU is a charter signatory of the Climate Commitment, and this project directly supports the university’s efforts to reduce carbon emissions and move toward climate neutrality. 

As part of the Solar By Degrees program, SolarCity will provide student internships and work with university faculty and staff to foster research opportunities and curricular connections.

Two other partners played key roles in making the project a reality: the Oregon Department of Energy, and U.S. Bank. The Department of Energy, which has assisted throughout the project development, made certain that Oregon industry and local jobs were supported, Trelstad said. Oregon’s U.S. Bank provided critically important project financing support through its investments in renewable energy projects benefitting OSU and the Oregon University System.

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