While there is immense focus on lightening the carbon footprint of planes, trains and automobiles through alternative fuel sources, Oregon has taken one step back and is looking to also support the infrastructure around their transportation systems with renewable solar power. And one company is at the heart of the effort: SolarWorld, the heavyweight solar manufacturer that employs more than 1,000 Oregonians at its plant just outside Portland in the city of Hillsboro.
Admittedly, Oregon’s notoriously rainy weather does not inspire images of blazing solar power, but the Oregon Department of Transportation (ODOT) sees otherwise. Seeing opportunity in rest stops and turnabouts, ODOT just completed a 1.75 megawatt solar system on 7 acres of the Baldock rest area on Interstate 5, operated by Portland General Electric. The 6,994 solar panels went online in January and the project — said to be the largest roadside solar installation in the country — eventually will feature an interpretive display and community garden, offering a nice surprise for road-trippers whose stop for a bathroom break now comes with a lesson on solar energy.
For local riders, the Portland area’s regional public transit agency, TriMet, commissioned its first large-scale photovoltaic installation at the South Terminus of the MAX light-rail system near Portland State University. TriMet officials estimate the 60-kilowatt (kW) system will produce around 65,000 kilowatt-hours of energy per year, saving 29 tons of carbon dioxide and trimming utility costs.
Not to be outdone by other transportation sectors, the Portland International Airport also boasts a 28-kW system comprising 120 SolarWorld solar panels. Putting the power of sunny days toward cold, wet days, the installation helps power a treatment facility for the airport’s deicing storm water collection system. The facility treats the runoff containing deicing chemicals that are used on the planes and runways, now slightly more sustainable since powered by renewable energy.
This initiative from Oregon is anything but surprising, according to Gordon Brinser, president of SolarWorld Industries America. “Oregon frequently wins recognition for the excellence of its transportation systems, the livability of its cities and the foresight of its urban planning,” Brinser said in a statement. “It is no surprise then that forward-looking transportation agencies have not only integrated solar energy into their operations but recognized the sustainable benefits of using solar panels manufactured locally within their own state.”