Oregon leads the way on use of solar installations for transportation facilities

Although begun in 2008, the largest component yet of the Oregon Solar Highway recently opened on I-5 in Clackamas County. The Baldock project, a public-private partnership between ODOT and Portland General Electric (PGE), is a solar array located in a safety rest area near Wilsonville. It will produce 1.97 million kilowatt hours of electricity that will feed into the grid during the day, essentially running meters backward. Power can then be drawn at night, when lighting is needed.

The array went on line in January, but it will be open to the public later in the spring, along with an interpretive center and community garden. It is the largest of array its kind in the U.S. composed of 6994 solar panels. With unobstructed rights-of-way and heavy energy use, transportation agencies are an ideal customer for solar energy generation.

Solar installations in transportation corridors are common in Europe, but are almost unknown in the U.S. However, Oregon plans more arrays along its Solar Highway, as well as at TriMet stations and the Portland Airport. ODOT has also developed a downloadable Solar Highway Manual, which has been popular with other states and cities.