In 2008, the Oregon Department of Transportation (ODOT) partnered with the State's largest utility, Portland General Electric (PGE), to create the Nation's first “solar highways.” The program's first solar highway project, located inside the interchange of Interstates 5 and 205 in Tualatin, Oregon, possesses 594 solar panels and produces over 120,000 kWh (kilowatt-hours) annually. Further down the road, about seven miles south of the first project, is the Baldock Solar Station, the Nation's largest solar highway project, which features a 6,994 solar panel array on roughly seven acres of ODOT-owned land. Over ten times the size of the first project at the I-5/205 interchange, the Baldock Project produces almost 2 million kWh annually. Both projects feed directly into the PGE grid, providing renewable power to PGE customers, including ODOT.
ODOT developed the Solar Highway Program in response to State and Federal policies to develop secure, renewable energy sources, reduce carbon emissions, “green” the transportation sector, and create jobs through an economy based on green energy. The Solar Highway Program allows ODOT to reduce its carbon footprint, offset nonrenewable electricity usage, and provide green energy to the electrical grid. It also supports local jobs and adds value to the existing public right-of-way (ROW) asset.
These two projects are the first products of ODOT's Solar Highway Program, which seeks to demonstrate the feasibility of using public ROWs for renewable energy projects. In Oregon, there are 19,000 lane-miles of ROW. Installing solar arrays on less than one percent of that land could offset all of ODOT's annual electricity use with clean, sustainable, home-grown energy.
Based in part on the program, the Federal Highway Administration has updated its guidance on allowable uses of ROW to include renewable energy projects. In addition, with program support provided by the U.S. Department of Energy, ODOT has begun to assist other States and countries in developing their own solar highway programs and projects. To date, 36 States and 14 countries have asked for assistance in undertaking their own solar highway efforts.
For more information, contact Allison Hamilton, Oregon Department of Transportation, at Allison.M.Hamilton@odot.state.or.us.