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Alternative Uses of Highway Right-of-Way

Appendix C. Case Studies

Oregon DOT's Solar Highway Demonstration Projects

In 2007, Oregon's Governor Ted Kulongoski directed state agencies to meet 100 percent of their electricity needs with renewable energy by 2025. A year later, Oregon DOT, wanting to find a way to tangibly offset its carbon footprint and begin to meet the Governor's challenge, embarked on the effort to implement the solar highway project. The project, now commonly known as Oregon's Solar Highway Demonstration Project, is located at the interchange of Interstate 5 and Interstate 205, along the middle of a grassy island at the interchange. It consists of a 104 kW, 594-panel, ground-mounted solar array system positioned at 20-degrees to the horizon. The solar array has produced approximately 130,000 kWh annually since it first went online, or roughly enough electricity to supply a third of the energy needed to illuminate ODOT's high mast luminaries in the area. SunWay 1, a limited liability company that PGE manages, owns and operates the system.

Site Selection and Design
The primary criterion for selecting a location for the demonstration project was safety. The panels had to be located beyond the "clear zone," or the area where errant vehicles might travel off the edge of the pavement. ODOT's roadway design engineering section was consulted to determine appropriate clear zone boundaries. The system also had to be in an area that ODOT was not planning to improve in the foreseeable future, in this case, 20 years, to ensure that the panels would not have to be moved or removed. The system also had to be within PGE's service area in a location that could be connected to an existing ODOT electricity load to meet net-metering requirements. The site at the I-5 and I-205 interchange was attractive because there was available land outside of the clear zone that was south-facing, experienced little shading, and was in a highly visible area.80

Since the interchange otherwise had limited access, the site selected required that a small, gravel access road be built for system construction, operation, and maintenance access. Stipulations governing the access, ingress and egress of the site were incorporated into the Utility Permit, providing control over the times and conditions under which access would be allowed while mitigating risk to the traveling public.

Business Model and Financing
ODOT had to find an innovative way to finance and implement the project given that state statutes restrict the use of highway funds to activities related to construction, reconstruction, operation, and maintenance of the state transportation system. ODOT first released a request for information, which led to conversations between ODOT and Five Stars International. Five Stars International, Ltd. worked with ODOT to find a utility partner. PGE was the only provider who expressed interest in moving forward with a project.

Ultimately, ODOT was able to finance the demonstration project through an innovative public-private partnership with PGE and other public and private entities. PGE partnered with U.S. Bank to form Sunway 1, LLC, which owns and operates the facility. ODOT then partnered with SolarWay to design, construct, and install the solar panels.

In order to take advantage of Federal and state tax incentives, which neither PGE nor ODOT could do because they do not have a tax liability, U.S. Bank was brought in as a tax equity investor (U.S. Bank has majority ownership of the project and leases the project back to SunWay 1, LLC at net cost). U.S. Bank utilized the state's Business Energy Tax Credit (BETC), which covered 50 percent of eligible costs, including equipment cost, engineering and design fees, materials, supplies and installation costs, and loan and permit fees. Additionally, U.S. Bank claimed the 30 percent federal Investment Tax Credit that the Energy Policy Act of 2005 (EPACT) created and the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009 (ARRA or Recovery Act) extended. The tax credits will be extracted over five years, after which the project will be fully capitalized. U.S. Bank can also utilize accelerated depreciation, which provides a way of deferring taxes by reducing taxable income in current years in exchange for increased taxable income in future years. PGE also contributed capital to the project. State regulation requires utilities to offset carbon emissions from coal-fired power plants. PGE valued the carbon offsets created by the solar energy project at $30 per metric ton.

ODOT entered into a Site License Agreement with Sunway 1 to allow the developer to site the solar PV system on ODOT land. ODOT also entered into a Solar Power Purchase Agreement (PPA) with Sunway 1 to purchase the electricity produced by the solar facility at the same rate the agency pays for electricity from other sources on the grid. The Site License agreement and the PPA, which both have initial terms of 20 years, allow ODOT to comply with constitutional constraints on the use of highway funds. Specifically, the PPA and Site License Agreements demonstrate that electricity the project produces will continue to be for ODOT's own use.

ODOT was the first Oregon state agency to enter into a solar site license agreement or a PPA. Legal staff at ODOT and the Oregon Department of Justice (DOJ) worked with an outside legal team to help draft the documents. The legal fees associated with developing these agreements constituted a large percentage of the overall project costs for the state.

Solar Project Development flow chart. Click for more information.

Value-Based Procurement
ODOT and its project partners utilized value-based selection criteria to award contracts and procure components in order to ensure that the solar demonstration project met the state's sustainability goals. For example, when procuring the PV modules for the demonstration project, Oregon evaluated proposals using a set of value-based selection criteria. In addition to corporate qualifications, technical characteristics of the proposed PV modules, and price, the selection criteria also included commitment to Oregon's Sustainability Policies, such as no hazardous materials in the panels, recycling of PV module materials after their useful life, and disclosing the manufacturing locations of the PV modules (to assess shipping impacts, if any). By carefully considering the project's contribution to the state's overall public interests and values, not just direct costs, ensured that the demonstration project truly supported the state's sustainability goals.

ODOT District offices issue and manage the permits as a normal course of business. ODOT, the Oregon DOJ, and the Oregon FHWA Division Office jointly determined that since the demonstration project was going to supply electricity for ODOT's direct use, the project would be permissible on ODOT ROW through the Oregon Administrative Rules Division 55 (OAR 734-055) Utility Permit process, which is usually used for utilities and which follows the Federal Utility Accommodation Plan (UAP). However, the parties involved agreed that while the Utility Permit Process would be followed for the initial three projects, future projects would reevaluate the appropriate permitting process to use. In addition, due to the pilot-testing nature of the solar installation, FHWA requested and completed review of the permit before it was issued. A traffic control plan was also submitted to the ODOT District office as a prerequisite to the Utility Permit.

Environmental Review
The Solar Demonstration Project followed the state environmental review process. Because the site location involved ODOT owned land that had been part of previous environmental analysis, the agency already had a wealth of information. ODOT retained responsibility for the analysis and obtaining environmental clearances, including issues related to hazardous materials, water quality, historic resources, and threatened or endangered species, and for the costs of mitigating or rehabilitating the impacts.

Additional issues that ODOT addressed in its environmental analyses for subsequent projects under study include noise, visual impacts, and electromagnetic frequencies.

Operations, Maintenance, and Security
As part of the site license agreement, PGE assumes liability for the I-5 solar system, including maintenance, operation, and security. The PV array and support equipment are located in a secure compound surrounded by a full height security fence, hardened with triple-strand barbed wire, razor wire coil, and 3-inch barbed security tape. An electronic security system monitors the perimeter fence and is capable of detecting when the fence is scaled, cut or damaged. Sensors monitor the opening and closing of the gate, and security cameras provide remote visual monitoring and motion detection within the compound. ODOT and PGE operations personnel will be immediately notified if any breach of security is detected. Under the security protocols established, ODOT will first notify State Police of site security issues, and then notify PGE. Additionally, PGE has implemented the use of Stop Theft technology, a proprietary theft deterrent product that PGE has used widely to safeguard, identify, and recover electronic equipment such as laptop computers, cameras and other moveable items. Placards are prominently displayed to further deter theft. Counter-sunk screws and tamper resistant bolts were used to make the removal of mounted hardware more difficult and time consuming. To date, the project has not experienced any security incidences.

In terms of maintenance, other than a cracked panel that the manufacturer had to replace, maintenance required has been minimal. Mowing has only been necessary a couple of times during the summer, as ODOT used a low-growing grass species that eliminates the need for regular mowing. Washing has never been necessary, as rain has successfully kept the panels clean. According to PGE, which has responsibility for maintenance, barring damage from external factors, the photovoltaic system should require very little maintenance during its service life.

Public Involvement
ODOT hired a local firm, Good Company, to manage the public involvement activities related to the project. Good Company conducted research describing when the solar highway would become "carbon positive," or beneficial to the atmosphere.81 The research has been an effective public relations tool. In general, the public response to the projects has been extremely positive. However, ODOT and its project partners noted the importance of public outreach efforts to educate the public on renewable energy facilities and adequately address any concerns the public raises.

Patent Issue
Late in the project development process, a patent holder for several patents related to the development of alternative energy installations along roadways contacted the Oregon project partners. The patent holder was entitled to collect license fees for use of the methodologies and techniques covered by the patents. The parties involved chose to negotiate a licensing fee under a non-disclosure agreement in order to avoid the legal fees and project delays that might have resulted from a legal challenge.

Future Projects
Based on the I-5 solar highway experience, ODOT and PGE are currently working on developing additional solar energy projects in the highway ROW. The next project, the Baldock Solar Highway Project, is located on a seven acre site adjacent to the Baldock Safety Rest Area on Interstate 5. The project entails installing a 1.75MW direct current solar array, which includes approximately 6,994 250-watt panels. Construction activities began in August 2011 and are expected to conclude in February 2012. The third project will involve installing a 3 MW solar panel system on a terraced hillside above I-205 at an ODOT operation and maintenance staging site in West Linn, Oregon.

These next two projects will also be permitted through the Utility Permitting Process. However, after these three projects, which are considered research and development projects, additional projects may be permitted through airspace leases. Because ODOT received funding from the DOE for its Baldock project, the project will need to abide by the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA); ODOT performs a NEPA-type environmental review regardless of federal funding or not. Since ODOT lacked familiarity and experience with DOE's NEPA regulations, the agency requested that it be allowed to follow FHWA's NEPA regulations. After a lengthy process, DOE allowed ODOT to follow FHWA NEPA regulations for its research and development projects, but this allowance does not currently extend to any potential future projects.

The Baldock project will also follow a different business model than the I-5 demonstration project. As with the I-5 demonstration project, ODOT will enter into a solar site license agreement with the third-party developer/utility to allow for use of the site. However, unlike the demonstration project where ODOT purchased the electricity the system generates, for future projects ODOT is considering receiving a portion of the "Renewable Energy Certificates" (RECs) that the projects create, not the electricity. When a renewable energy facility operates it creates electricity, which is delivered to a specific facility or the grid, along with an REC. The REC represents the environmental attributes and benefits (for example, emissions offset) of the renewable power produced. In these cases, the renewable electricity itself and its associated REC can be "unbundled" and sold separately. When this occurs, electricity that is unbundled from the REC is no long considered "renewable", and therefore, cannot be counted towards any renewable energy or carbon offset targets. The RECs ODOT would receive would be proportional to costs incurred related to project development activities, including staff and consultant costs, legal costs, and environmental assessment costs. The RECs would be conveyed to ODOT through a site license agreement, and a PPA would not be needed. Because creating a PPA is a complex and lengthy process, ODOT views this business model as a preferred option.

Best Practices/Lessons Learned
Oregon DOT and its project partners learned many important lessons while implementing the nation's first solar highway project.

Additional information on Oregon's solar highways project is available at

Massachusetts DOT's Renewable Energy Feasibility, Solar Power, and Wind Power Projects

Statewide Renewable Energy Feasibility Study
The Massachusetts Department of Transportation (MassDOT) is conducting a statewide assessment of the Highway Division's real estate holdings, including buildings, structures, and rights-of-way, to identify potential sites suitable for wind and/ or solar power installations. The feasibility study is in response to several environmental directives and policies focused on reducing the environmental impacts of state government operations.

In 2007, Massachusetts' Governor Deval Patrick issued Executive Order 484, which established the state's Leading by Example (LBE) Program. The program established GHG emission reduction and renewable energy targets for all state agencies. In support of the LBE program and other related policies, MassDOT issued its GreenDOT policy directive in June 2010.82 One of the three goals of GreenDOT is to reduce GHG emissions associated with the operation of the state's transportation system.

MassDOT, in coordination with the consulting firm Epsilon Associates, Inc., is reviewing its real estate holdings to identify potential sites suitable for large- and small-scale wind and solar installations. To identify potential locations for wind and solar projects, the consultant will overlay geographic information system (GIS) data on MassDOT facilities and other land holdings with wind and solar resource data, such as the National Renewable Energy Laboratory's 50 meter wind power data for Massachusetts. MassDOT holdings that are located in areas with quality wind and solar resources will be further assessed against a set of suitability criteria. While MassDOT and its consultant are still developing the site suitability criteria, it is expected to include the following factors: minimum site acreage, minimum distance from travel lanes, construction access, proximity to utility interconnection, environmental constraints, and proximity to residences and other developments. The statewide assessment is expected to be complete by mid-2011.

MassDOT is also currently pursuing renewable energy generation projects within highway ROW that were initiated prior to the feasibility assessment. The two projects, one a wind power project and the other a solar power project, are highlighted below.

Wind Power at Blandford Service Area
Following creation of the LBE Program, the state sought to identify potential sites to support solar and wind facilities. The former Massachusetts Turnpike Authority, which is now part of MassDOT, analyzed potential wind turbine sites along the Massachusetts Turnpike, a 138-mile highway extending across the state from east to west. One of the areas examined was a 68-acre site adjacent to the Blandford service area, a Turnpike property located near the highest elevation on the Massachusetts Turnpike. After a 13-month feasibility study,83 which collected wind speed and other site condition information, the Turnpike determined that the site was suitable for wind power development. In April 2009, the former Turnpike Authority issued a Request for Proposals (RFP) for a long-term lease for wind turbine development at the Blandford site. Solaya Energy, LLC was selected as the preferred developer. The developer proposes to build a 1.5MW turbine in the middle of the 68-acre site. The turbine will be set back approximately 1500 feet from the roadway.

Development Agreement
In September 2010, MassDOT and the Solaya Energy Corporation entered into a Development Agreement. The agreement requires the developer to develop preliminary and final development plans, design documents, and construction management plans, all of which MassDOT must approve. The developer must also obtain all necessary permits, secure financing, and enter into an Interconnection Agreement with a utility company before MassDOT will enter into a real estate lease.

The creation and final details of the Development Agreement differed from typical real estate agreements in a number of ways. These differences, as well as additional challenges and issues that the project faces include:

  1. Establishing Milestones. Typical MassDOT real estate leases include specific milestones that the developer must meet in a specified amount of time. However, as this was the first renewable energy project for the agency, MassDOT was unsure of the appropriate milestones. Ultimately, the agreement included a general two-year timeframe in which the developer had to meet all its required conditions and commitments. The only milestone that was included, at the request of the developer, was that MassDOT had to approve the initial concept plan. MassDOT would not typically provide a developer with that long of a time frame to meet all of its obligations. However, since this was a first of its kind project, neither MassDOT nor the developer was certain on how long each step in the process would take.

    The agreement provides for opportunities to extend the two-year timeframe. For example, if the developer secures the necessary permits, but then a challenge is made, the developer will be granted an extension in order to address the challenge.

  2. Permitting. The wind power project will be subject to local zoning regulations. The Town of Blandford, MA does not currently have zoning for wind power projects. Before the Town can permit the project, the applicable zoning bylaw needed to be developed. The Executive Office of Energy and Environmental Affairs worked with Blandford officials to do so. In May 2011, registered voters at a Town of Blandford open town meeting defeated the bylaw, putting the future of this project in question.

  3. Third Party Costs. Under the Agreement, the developer is responsible for reimbursing MassDOT for all third party costs, such as consultants' and attorneys' fees, title, and engineering costs, associated with the project. However, since not all of the consultants that MassDOT is using are experienced with wind turbine projects, the developer has been allowed to approve a sub-set of vendors that the DOT may use. If MassDOT wants to utilize a vendor not included on the pre-approved list, it must first get the developer's approval.

  4. Due Diligence/Liability. Because the return on investment associated with the wind project is expected to be low, the developer has been hesitant to accept the risks common to such projects. While utility scale developers have the experience and ability to absorb such risks, the smaller company has been more risk adverse. For example, the developer has been hesitant to accept liability for the project, because there is a concern that the liability will impact the developer's ability to secure financing. MassDOT made some allowances for this in the Development Agreement, allowing more latitude for the developer to get out of the project than is typical with such agreements.

  5. Power Sales. The developer is having difficulty securing a customer for the renewable energy the wind power project is expected to produce. Due to the current economics of a power purchase agreement, the cost of the electricity the wind turbine would generate would be higher than competitive sources. Because MassDOT is already locked into a series of statewide power contracts, the DOT is not able to purchase the electricity. Potential customers include the vendors located at the adjacent service station. However, since the amount of electricity to be produced at the site exceeds the service station's demand, the developer needs to find additional electricity customers. The developer's financing, and therefore, its lease with MassDOT, is contingent on securing a customer base for the wind energy produced.

Eventually, if and when the turbine is installed and operating, the operator will be required to pay rent to MassDOT for use of the land. The cost will be tied to the total revenue generated; with the rent equal to 3.5 percent of power sales, with a minimum of $15,000 a year.

Solar PV Array in Carver
The Town of Carver recently constructed a new water treatment facility in the North Carver Water District. The town was interested in utilizing renewable energy sources to support the water system's energy needs. Town officials initially analyzed the feasibility of installing wind turbines along Route 44, which runs adjacent to the water treatment facility. After the site assessment, it was determined that the location was better suited for a solar power project. Route 44 is an east-west state highway with an embankment at a 36-degree pitch, making it well suited for a solar array.

In February 2009, the Town of Carver approached the local MassDOT District Office about installing a 117 kW solar array along the highway ROW. The District Office was initially opposed to the concept. However, after several months of coordination with MassDOT and other state government leadership, the town secured support for the project as a demonstration.

Shortly thereafter, the Town was granted an easement from the MassDOT to construct the solar arrays along the highway ROW. The 117 kW system will be set back 65 feet from the roadway, and will be accessible through the water treatment facility property. The easement conditions require that the existing guardrail in the area be extended along the length of the solar array and includes language stating that if the DOT needs the land for expansion in the future, then the town will be required to remove the solar facility. As a requirement to obtaining the easement, the Town of Carver had to get an appraisal on the value of land, which was used to establish the annual rent owed to MassDOT. The town will pay $880 per year to MassDOT for use of the land.

In November 2010, the town selected a preferred vendor, who will install, own, and operate the solar panels. Shortly after the preferred developer was selected the town received a $50,000 technical assistance grant from the Massachusetts' Department of Energy Resources' Energy Efficiency and Conservation Block Grant (EECBG) Program, which is being used to support the Town with developing the power purchase agreement. The town was also awarded a $150,000 grant from the Federal Recovery Act, which will be used to underwrite the cost of the facility.

While increasing reliance on renewable energy was a priority for the state, the Carver solar power project was one of the first in the state to pursue using the highway ROW for siting a renewable energy facility. Staff at the local MassDOT district level did not have experience with using ROW for such purposes and, thus, were initially hesitant about approving such a use. It took a great deal of lobbying on the town's behalf to move the project through the various levels of DOT approval. Securing support from the DOT leadership was critical to moving the project forward at the local level.

Negotiations for the PPA have been lengthy and complicated, with the main issue being liability. The town is requiring the developer to accept complete liability for the project, while the developer is concerned with their ability to secure financing if their liability is too high.

California Highway 50 Solar Project

The Sacramento Municipal Utility District (SMUD) and the California Department of Transportation (Caltrans) had been coordinating to develop solar energy projects along Highway 50 in Sacramento County. The proposed 1.4 MW project would have been the first of its kind in the state. However, in November 2011, the project was canceled due to economic reasons, which are described below.

Initially presented in summer 2007, the idea gained leadership support and the official go-ahead within about a year. Shortly thereafter, SMUD met with Caltrans and FHWA staff to discuss the project. With no precedent to rely upon, all of the involved parties have had to work through the issues together. For example, Caltrans and SMUD chose sites collaboratively through an iterative process focused on establishing the following siting criteria:

SMUD used Google Earth as an initial screening tool to identify potential sites. Staff then conducted a field assessment of the locations found in the screening to see if the siting criteria could be met. Ultimately, two potential locations were selected:

Once the potential sites were identified, SMUD conducted a two-phase feasibility study. Phase I, completed in September of 2009, was a preliminary project evaluation that included a survey of the sites, preliminary PV system designs based on three different types of off-the-shelf flat-plate PV modules, an economic assessment of these designs and a preliminary identification of potential project barriers and challenges unique to deploying PV systems along the highway corridor. The Phase 1 study results found that the design utilizing poly-crystalline PV modules was the most cost effective PV system for installation along the highway. SMUD determined it to be attractive enough to initiate the Phase 2 analysis. IEC was contracted for Phase 2 to further evaluate the project cost and performance, fully examine the design parameters, barriers, mitigations, constraints, and project economics, and collect the findings required to gain approval from stakeholders and proceed to the environmental study and project bid phase.

In accordance with the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA), SMUD released its Initial Study/Mitigated Negative Declaration and Mitigation Monitoring Plan in July 2011. Following the completion of the environmental document, Caltrans approved a conceptual draft airspace lease agreement for the project in August 2011. Subsequently, SMUD issued a Request for Offer (RFO) to identify a third-party to design, construct, and operate the solar installations. The developer would have owned and operated the solar arrays and would have sold the electricity produced to SMUD. SMUD's RFO received only one bid, which was higher than anticipated given estimated costs associated with similarly scaled projects. As a result, in November 2011, SMUD determined that it was not economically feasible to continue to pursue the solar highway project.

Issues and Challenges
Safety/Access. One of the primary considerations is to have access to the site from outside the travel lane. Caltrans did not have a related internal policy because private uses similar to solar installations in the ROW had not been previously encountered. Caltrans was also concerned about the appropriate distance to locate the solar panels from the highway. Establishing the setback and height requirements was a complicated process, requiring much discussion and coordination between Caltrans and SMUD. For this particular project Caltrans is requiring 52-foot horizontal and 8-foot vertical setbacks. The setback requirements apply to both the travel lane and the on-ramp areas.

Security. Full perimeter fencing is prohibited in the project area to minimize the number of objects and structures within the ROW. SMUD needed to identify appropriate, alternative security measures to address theft and vandalism concerns. The organization has experience securing other solar installations without perimeter fencing and will apply the lessons learned from those projects to this one. SMUD anticipates a number of features that will "harden" the design for protection in the urban environment, including anti-theft hardware, fully enclosed wiring, partial fencing to discourage casual access, and protective landscape features. Additionally, the flat plate solar arrays will be mounted 18" from the ground to prevent the public from using them as shelter.

Glare. Caltrans expressed concern about the potential for the panels to create glare, which would present a safety hazard to motorists. SMUD addressed this concern in the environmental analysis via special studies examining the risk of glint and glare on motorists and residents. As other studies have demonstrated, solar panels are designed to absorb sunlight, rather than reflect it, minimizing potential impacts of glare. Additionally, the potential for glare is highest when viewing angles are acute, which occurs for only very limited periods of time in the morning and the evening from spring to late summer.

Aesthetics. SMUD worked with a local architect firm to develop preliminary conceptual designs of the Rancho Cordova installation. Design considerations are critical, as these project sites are highly visible and intended to be viewed as community assets. SMUD is also planning to incorporate design criteria into its Request for Offer (to select a project developer) and to involve the community in the evaluation of the proposed project designs. Post-construction, the developer will be required to maintain the surrounding landscaping and correct any graffiti or other disturbances at the project sites.

Legal. There is a patent holder with a patent covering the development of renewable energy projects on public ROW. SMUD considered it less costly to negotiate a license fee with the patent holder than to challenge the patent in court. However, SMUD is wary of setting a precedent for other utilities seeking to do similar projects. The patent issue is a national issue and will likely impact all projects that seek to install renewable energy projects in the highway ROW.

Public Outreach and Feedback
As part of the scoping process for the environmental analysis, SMUD held four public workshops in the September 2010. SMUD had developed visualizations, including conceptual drawings and realistic photo renderings to help the public understand what the projects would entail. The visualizations were used during the public meetings to set the context for each project location and to help generate feedback from the public on the preliminary design.

Best Practices/Lessons Learned
Although SMUD is no longer pursuing the projects, their efforts generated a number of lessons learned. Early on, gaining support for the solar installations required a great deal of persistence from the project champion at SMUD before the utility's leadership backed implementation of the concept. With leadership support, the project team has learned the following lessons over the last two years:

Ohio Department of Transportations' Renewable Energy Projects

In 2008, the Ohio Legislature established a renewable portfolio standard (RPS) that required utilities to provide 25 percent of their retail electricity supply from alternative energy resources by 2025. Shortly thereafter, the Ohio Department of Transportation (Ohio DOT) was granted the authority to lease their right of way for the deployment of alternative energy technologies in support of the newly established state RPS. Currently, Ohio DOT has several renewable energy projects underway in the highway right of way and on other department owned property.

Veterans' Glass City Skyway Bridge Solar Array Demonstration Project
In 2010, Ohio DOT, in coordination with the University of Toledo, installed a 100 kW grid connected solar array in the highway ROW off Interstate 280 and Greenbelt Parkway in Toledo, Ohio. Electricity developed by the solar array is used to offset the electricity demand of the Veterans' Glass City Skyway Bridge, which has a 196-foot lighted pylon containing 384 light emitting diode fixtures. The solar array is expected to meet 100 percent of the electricity demand for the bridge lighting. Ohio DOT funded the project through a Federal earmark and a use of state planning and research funds.

Ohio DOT implemented the solar array field demonstration project to evaluate the effectiveness of installing renewable energy technologies in the highway ROW. The project utilizes two types of solar panels, both of which are manufactured in state. The project includes 966 rigid solar panels manufactured by First Solar, and 198 flexible solar panels manufactured by Xunlight. Over the next year, the University of Toledo will conduct research to study the effectiveness of installing the solar array along the highway ROW in Ohio. The solar array is comprised of several sub-units. Each panel is attached to a monitoring system, which allows researchers to study how the solar arrays interact in a system. Ohio DOT will also use the field demonstration project to evaluate glint and glare impacts, and to identify additional issues that will need to be considered for future projects, such as the impact of snow melt and ice damming.

During the research phase, the University of Toledo, which installed the arrays, is responsible for operating and maintaining the system. At the end of the one year research effort, Ohio DOT will take over ownership and responsibility for the system. To date, a couple of panels needed to be replaced under the manufacturer's warranty.

Maintenance Facility Wind Turbine
In addition to the solar demonstration project, the Ohio DOT is also installing a small 32 kW wind turbine at an Ohio DOT maintenance facility in Northwood, OH along I-68. The wind turbine, which is approximately 100 feet tall, is located 140 feet from the roadway. As with the solar demonstration project, the Ohio DOT district will retain ownership and will be responsible for operating and maintaining the wind facility. The electricity produced by the turbine will be used on site, and Ohio DOT anticipates that it will help meet up to 65 percent of the electricity needs of the maintenance facility.

Environmental and Safety Considerations
Ohio's state resource and regulatory agencies did not have much experience with small scale wind projects. As such, the regulatory agencies did not have specific guidelines to follow in designing the wind facility. Ohio DOT worked closely with the agencies and the local municipality to address environmental and safety concerns such as ice throw, flickering of blades, fall radius, and bird deaths. Ohio DOT is also coordinating with the Fish and Wildlife Service to monitor the impact of the wind turbine on migratory bird populations.

For its wind project, the Ohio DOT received funding from the DOE. As a result, the agency was required to comply with both DOE's (10 CFR Part 1021) and FHWA's (23 CFR 771) NEPA regulations. The Ohio DOT chose to create two NEPA documents, one for FHWA and one for DOE, instead of trying to coordinate between the two agencies.

Statewide "Opportunity Zones" Assessment
In addition to the solar and wind projects currently underway, Ohio DOT is working with the Ohio State University to utilize geographic information systems (GIS) to identify opportunity zones for renewable energy and other revenue generating projects in the highway ROW. The research effort will utilize numerous GIS layers, including DOT assets and wind and solar resource maps, coupled with an economic analysis to identify priority locations to site future projects. In particular, Ohio DOT will identify excess agency-owned land parcels that are greater than five acres. These large land parcels are needed to build renewable energy facilities at a scale that make them economically feasible.

Lessons Learned
In developing its solar and wind projects Ohio DOT has identified several best practices and lessons learned.

Freeways to Fuel Program

Freeways to Fuel (F2F) is a national alliance designed to investigate the use of non-traditional agronomic lands such as roadside ROW, military bases, and airports for the growth of biofuel feedstock crops across the country.84 The F2F program, which began in 2007 as a cooperative program between the Utah Department of Transportation (UDOT) and Utah State University (USU), seeks to increase the production of biofuel without affecting food, fiber, feed, or flower production by targeting lands that are not currently in production. The alliance has now grown to include other DOTs and land grant universities. As participants in the F2F program, these universities and DOTs collectively contribute to the research on whether uses of non-traditional lands are economically and environmentally feasible. To date, the F2F national alliance has tested safflower, canola, and flax crops.

Nearly all transportation agencies in the United States expend significant costs to maintain the highway ROW. For example, UDOT alone manages nearly 6,000 miles of highway roadsides, which incurred $300 per mile in maintenance costs in 2006. Transportation agencies can minimize maintenance requirements, as well as produce biofuel that can be used to replace traditional fuels, by planting and harvesting feedstocks in the highway ROW. This in turns helps transportation agencies reduce their GHG emissions. The F2F economic model shows that biodiesel produced from this method will be economically feasible given a petroleum diesel price of $2.50 per gallon.85

Utah Freeways to Fuel Pilot
In 2006, the USU research team partnered with UDOT to pilot the planting of crops in the highway ROW. This effort marked the first time that any group had attempted to grow biocrops for the purpose of creating a biofuel source in the highway ROW. While the production of biofuel was a key part of the Freeways to Fuel program, it was not the element that attracted UDOT; rather it was the potential cost savings that provided the greatest draw.

USU planted several test plots along the I-15 corridor, selecting 20-foot by 8-foot plots. The study team replicated these plots eight times in four locations. The team used a drill, commonly used for re-vegetating roadways to plant biocrops and seeded 15 feet off the pavement in the roadway shoulders. Initially, the crops did not produce a significant yield. The research team determined that there were soil compaction issues immediately adjacent the highway that impacted crop yield. In response, USU devised new planting techniques that would loosen the roadside soil without impacting the stability of the roadway. The USU team eventually developed an aerator tool that could be attached to planting equipment.

North Carolina Freeways to Fuel Program
The North Carolina Freeways to Fuel project, a cooperative effort between the North Carolina Department of Transportation's (NCDOT) and North Carolina State University (NCSU), started in 2009 and is now largely regarded as one of the most successful programs in the F2F alliance. Its moist climate, fertile soils, and support from the State legislature have made the biocrop growing efforts a national model.

As a first step in the project, NCDOT needed to identify areas in the highway ROW that were suitable and eligible for biocrop production. NCSU used GIS tools to look at slope, width of ROW, and shoulder width sections to determine the amount of acreage and mileage available for the biocrops program.

NCDOT, in collaboration with NCSU, selected four, one-acre plots to plant canola and sunflower crops. The canola is planted in the fall and harvested in June, and sunflower is planted in July and harvested in October. By working with seasonally rotated crops on the same plot, NCDOT has been able to significantly increase its yield over a model where only one crop was planted on a site. Other seasonal crops were ruled out based on their anticipated poorer growth performance in the harsh ROW conditions (as compared to conditions on a farm, for example). The plots are located more than 10 feet from the roadway, with a grass buffer area between crops and the road.

NCDOT has used its own equipment to manage the plantings, but also uses personnel from NCSU to supplement its own staff. Thus far, canola yields have either met or exceeded national standards. The sunflower crop harvest, while robust, was not as strong as the canola harvest. Drought was one issue that impacted the sunflower yield, and future sunflower harvests along the highway could produce more biocrops.

In designing and implementing its biocrop project, the NCDOT and NCSU addressed the following issues:

Initial Outcomes and Next Steps
Once the canola and sunflower crops reach maturity, NCDOT harvests them and works with NCSU to convert the harvests to biofuel. In the past year, NCDOT extracted 3,000 pounds of canola seed, which produced 100 gallons of virgin oil. This in turn created 150 gallons of B100 (100 percent biodiesel). Using NCSU's portable production unit, the B100 was blended with conventional diesel to produce approximately 500 gallons of B20 (20 percent biodiesel and 80 percent conventional diesel). The program produced 500-800 gallons of B20 product, which NCDOT used to power its dump trucks and tractors, as well as other equipment.

NCDOT received positive feedback about this project, including a great deal of media coverage. Specifically the public indicated that it was pleased with the idea of using the ROW for biocrop growth, rather than general mowing. While the research effort between NCDOT and NCSU concluded in July 2011, NCDOT plans to continue research efforts with NCSU to grow biofuel crops in the highway ROW. The NCDOT is working on integrating biocrop growth into the broader vegetative management program.

Additional F2F Efforts
In addition to Utah and North Carolina, several other states are researching the effectiveness and efficiency of planning biocrops in the highway ROW. Additional efforts underway include:


80 ODOT believes that approximately 1.6 billion vehicles will pass by the demonstration project over its duration.

81 Good Company. August 2008. Avoided Carbon Emissions from Solar Panel Systems and Sequestered Carbon Emissions from Tree Growth

82 MassDOT GreenDOT Policy:

83 Renewable Energy Research Laboratory (2009). Wind Data Report Blandford Rest Area: December 2008 to February 2009.

84 Freeways to Fuel:

85 Freeways to Fuel Economic Model:

Updated: 9/1/2016
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