A field of solar panels is going in at Oregon Institute of Technology this winter that will combine with existing geothermal facilities to make the Klamath Falls, Ore., campus 100 percent powered by renewable energy produced on site.
Gov. John Kitzhaber will attend groundbreaking ceremonies Thursday at OIT.
Oregon State University and Eastern Oregon University are also putting in new made-in-Oregon solar systems as part of a program to increase renewable energy on state campuses.
Oregon University System Assistant Vice Chancellor Bob Simonton said the idea goes back six years, when then-Gov. Ted Kulongoski asked what it would take to power all state buildings with 100 percent renewable energy as part of his goal of reducing emissions of greenhouse gases.
The seven state universities will remain a long way from that goal, but OIT, which already generates heat and electricity from geothermal wells on campus, should meet it, Simonton said. The OIT solar system will produce an estimated 3.3 million kilowatt hours per year.
The first three campuses in the Solar by Degrees program were chosen because they have open land available for building large solar arrays. They will have a combined capacity of 4.9 megawatts, but actual production will be less, due to variations in sunshine.
One of the arrays is going on a sheep pasture at OSU, where the sheep will still be able to graze, OSU sustainability coordinator Brandon Trelstad said. The solar system will boost the campus to more than 3 percent renewable power produced on site. Currently, there is one rooftop system and a small mobile system.
Portland State University, University of Oregon, Western Oregon University and Southern Oregon University will start evaluating rooftop sites on their campuses next year.
Renewable Energy Development Corp. of Utah will build the solar systems at a cost of more than $27 million on land leased from the three universities, and then sell the power to the universities. They are scheduled to be finished by the end of the year. The company is getting $13.5 million in state energy tax credits, plus federal credits, Simonton said.
By stabilizing power costs over the 25-year minimum life of the solar systems, the university system expects to save a total of $6.6 million. It will have the option of buying the solar systems after five years, by which time the value is expected to be far less, due to reduced costs of building solar power systems in general.
The solar panels will be manufactured by SolarWorld in Hillsboro, and the inverters by PV Powered of Bend. Oregon Electric of Portland will be the installation contractor.
The arrays will have the added benefit of giving students and faculty a chance for hands-on learning and research, Simonton said.