OUS to break ground on Oregon's largest solar project

A multiple-campus solar installation in Oregon will be the nation's largest.

A multiple-campus solar installation in Oregon will be the nation's largest.

The Oregon University System is launching a large-scale solar project, slated to be the state's largest, on Thursday with a groundbreaking at the Oregon Institute of Technology in Klamath Falls.

Gov. John Kitzhaber and Chris Maples, president of OIT, will lean on shovels to kick off what OUS is calling "Solar by Degrees" a project to install large-scale solar at all of its campuses.

The first phase of the project, to be completed by the end of the year, will install large ground-mounted solar arrays at OIT, Eastern Oregon University and Oregon State University. Combined, the solar arrays will have an installed capacity of about 4.9 megawatts, enough to power about 900 homes.

The project is thought to be the largest multiple-campus university system-based contract for solar energy in the nation and will take one of Oregon's university campuses essentially off the grid.

The solar installations will be built by Renewable Energy Development Corp., or REDco, a Utah company that is leasing land from the universities — 27 acres total — and selling the solar power generated by the arrays back to the universities at a price cheaper than grid power.

At OIT, the solar energy, combined with a new geothermal power plant in the works, will cover all of the campus' electricity and heat needs.

The second phase of the project will add solar to other campuses in the OUS system, including Portland State University, Southern Oregon University, University of Oregon and Western Oregon University. Those installations, expected in 2012, are likely to be rooftop solar arrays.

Bob Simonton, OUS assistant vice chancellor for capital programs, said the project has been in the works for about six years, having started with a challenge from former Gov. Ted Kulongoski to make all state buildings operate with 100 percent renewable power.

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