An Open House for the West Linn Solar Highway Project was held by ODOT on March 30, 2010 at the Willamette Christian Church in West Linn. About 80 people attended the event where they found information and were able to ask questions about various aspects of the proposed project and other related things, including:
• Environmental regulations
• City Bicycle/Trail Project
ODOT wishes to thank everyone who participated in the event.
PROJECT STATUS: The West Linn site will be included in ODOT’s solar highway project site inventory. The project is not expected to be financed until 2011 or 2012, at which point ODOT will initiate the City of West Linn permit processes. Those processes typically take 7-9 months to complete and include public notice. Construction would begin after the City processes are completed.
NEXT STEPS: ODOT will accept comments on the site feasibility analysis through April 30, 2010, then will post a summary of all the comments to this website by May 7, 2010. Additional information in response to new issues raised will also be posted here.
For more information on the Solar Highway, including research reports, documents, background information, and to leave feedback and comments, please visit:
MSNBC Video http://www.msnbc.msn.com/id/3032619/ns/nightly_news#33968518
Please review the attached letter from Tualatin Valley Fire & Rescue (TVF&R) District stating the Fire District’s opinion that developed property typically represents lower fire risk than undeveloped property. TVF&R states in this letter that they believe that the solar project and the bordering trail would create fire breaks that currently do not exist on the property. And, the gravel access road to the site could actually improve TVF&R's ability to respond to an incident in that area.
An ODOT noise study has commenced on the proposed site. In addition, an ODOT survey crew may be observed on solar highway site over the next month or more. The ODOT survey crew are taking spot elevation measurements on the middle and lower benches, but will not be working on the northernmost part of the right-of-way. They will not be surveying the northern boundary of the ODOT right-of-way. They are also taking elevation measurements of existing drainage improvements along the freeway, and mapping the location of the stream on the west side of the site near Salamo Road. This survey and mapping work is needed to support a stormwater analysis that will begin soon.
The latest edition of the "Solar Highway Update" is now available. This publication is designed to keep citizens informed about the solar highway project. Click here
to read the second edition. This newsletter was handed out to all participants at the BHT Neighborhood Association meeting on September 2, 2009, and is available online for all West Linn neighbors.
Download below the responses to the list of questions and information requests from the Barrington Heights Neighborhood Association. Also included below a new informational document from the Good Company on the facts related to panel glare and reflectivity.
Currently, there is a lot of staging activity on the proposed solar highway site related to the Abernethy Bridge project. Large tanker trucks, material storage, large highway construction equipment, etc. are being stored and staged at the site. This activity is not
related to the solar highway proposal. If you have any questions about the Abernethy Bridge project, please contact Susan Hanson in ODOT Community Affairs
Soon, a geotechnical analysis of the potential solar highway site will underway. A driller is scheduled to be on site to take core samples in four locations. There are two sample sites on the lower bench, and two on the upper bench. All the sample sites are toward the center of the site, not the edges. The core sample holes will be filled in with inert material when completed, as is required by normal drill permit requirements. ODOT requires the drill operators to take extra precautions for fire prevention during the work, because the grass on the site is very dry. They will have water available to spray as they move the drill around on the site and during the drilling, and they will remain on the site after the drill is moved, to make sure fire danger has passed before they leave.
The "Solar Highway Update" is a periodic newsletter published to keep citizens informed about the solar highway project. Click here
to read the first edition. This newsletter was direct mailed to all homes in the BHT Neighborhood Association, and is available online for all West Linn neighbors.
The West Linn City Council voted 4-1 on July 27, 2009 in support of a resolution indicating West Linn's support for continuing to work with ODOT in considering West Linn as a possible site for a solar highway. Read the full resolution text and agenda information here.
Read ODOT responses to an email circulating from Oregon City about the proposed solar highway project. Click here
to review the facts.
View renderings of the proposed solar highway project site from various Oregon City vantage points.
The City of West Linn and Clackamas County have asked the Oregon Department of Transportation (ODOT) to look into a West Linn location as a potential site for a large solar highway project.
Review these frequently asked questions to learn more about the proposed solar highway project.
Updated December 10, 2009
Further Q&A Specific to the Proposed West Linn Solar Project
Can you put the scale of the proposed West Linn solar highway project in perspective?
Yes. The proposed West Linn solar highway project will produce about 3.2 million kilowatt-hours of
electricity annually. On the average, the 7,497 single family homes in West Linn use more
electricity in 16 days than what will be produced annually by the proposed solar highway project.
For further comparison, the annual electricity use in the 290 single family homes in the nearby
Barrington Heights, Hidden Creek Estates & Tanner Woods Neighborhood Association (BHTNA) is
about the same as the electricity which will be produced every year by the proposed solar highway
What does this mean? It means the electrical distribution system running through the West Linn
neighborhoods already supplies more electricity than the solar highway project will produce. So
while the proposed solar highway project is significant in terms of the electricity needed to power
the state transportation system, it represents a small percentage of the electricity flowing through
the neighborhoods. Together those homes use more electricity than the entire state transportation
system not just throughout the Portland area, but throughout Oregon.
I understand the solar project will only produce around 20 percent of its rated capacity – or around 600 kilowatt hours instead of 3,000,000 kilowatt hours. Is that correct?
No, but an explanation is useful. The proposed West Linn Solar Highway project will have a
“nameplate” capacity of 3 megawatts, which means it has the capacity to produce 3,000,000
kilowatt hours of alternating current electricity per year. An estimate for a solar array’s energy output in the Portland area is available through the US Department of Energy’s website:
. By entering
3,000 kW (which is 3 megawatts) as the DC (direct current) capacity, the USDOE model will show
you the annual AC (alternating current) production of more than 3,000,000 kilowatt hours. However,
solar facilities like the solar highway demonstration project may do even better than the basis for
that estimate because of the high quality of the Oregon-made solar panels.
Will the energy produced by the solar project go to ODOT?
Yes, it will. Under Oregon law, utility regulatory rules, and by legal contract, every kilowatt hour
produced by the proposed solar array will be credited to ODOT.
Imagine that the utility grid is like the Willamette River and electrons on the utility grid are like
molecules in the water. If a small stream trickles five gallons per minute into the Willamette River
upstream in Molalla and you have a pipe in West Linn downstream that diverts five gallons per
minute from the river, the pipe flow probably contains only few molecules from that stream in
Molalla out of the billions of molecules present in the entire river. But West Linn has a legal, binding
agreement, in keeping with Oregon law and utility regulations, with the river-keepers that
guarantees that it gets those five gallons per minute, regardless if the molecules come from Molalla
or a creek emptying into the Willamette somewhere else. That amount of water is legally West Linn’s – no one else can have it. The amount of electrons produced by the solar array are ODOT’s,
no one else can use them according to the law, and ODOT will use that amount to power the
transportation system, providing illumination to Interstate 205 in the West Linn area and elsewhere
in PGE territory.
Some say it would take over 100 years to pay off this project using energy cost savings alone. Is this really a smart financial move?
It’s true that new technologies and new applications cost more when they are first created, tested
and then deployed. When comparing the costs of the solar highway to the status quo (fossil fuels)
or to other potential resources (nuclear power), it is critical to take into account values such as long
term environmental damage and carbon impacts, as well as public subsidies for nuclear and fossil
fuels. For example, a solar project will produce significant relative net benefits immediately in terms
of carbon emissions when compared to any fossil fuel plant.
For a longer view, consider the President’s 2009 US Department of Energy (DOE) budget. It
included $156 million for the Solar America Initiative to help make solar cost competitive with
conventional resources. It also included $595 million to continue development of (not
implementation) a nuclear waste repository and more than $600 million for technology development
(not implementation) to capture carbon from coal plants, plus another $1.65 billion in tax credits and
low interest loan guarantees to accelerate development of such technologies. (See
) With multiple subsidies in place for both renewable and “conventional” resources, it is difficult to make an “apples to apples” cost
It’s not difficult, however, to consider the benefits of solar energy over other energy sources.
Experts agree our current energy supply will not meet the increased demands of the future. The US
DOE expects electricity consumption in the US to increase about 30 percent in the next 20 years.
Meeting this challenge with renewables increases our energy security. Coal (which supplies around
40 percent of Oregon’s electricity) and most natural gas come from out of state; the money we
spend on that energy leaves Oregon, and we are dependent on others to source it for us. Burning
coal and natural gas also produces carbon dioxide, the most dangerous greenhouse gas.
Developing our own clean green sources of energy provides energy stability and security, and the
money – and jobs – stay here in Oregon.
Why doesn’t ODOT just put this solar project in the desert? There’s more sun there.
Oregon law requires that solar projects be located on customer-owned property in the utility service
area that serves the customer; in this case, the solar panel must be located on ODOT property and
ODOT must use the electricity generated, and both the property and the energy use must be in the
same utility service area. The transportation system in eastern Oregon doesn’t need that much
electricity, so it doesn’t make sense to put a solar array in eastern Oregon. It does make sense to
put it in PGE territory, in the Portland metropolitan area because that’s where ODOT uses the most
Here’s some perspective: The 2006-2008 US Census American Community Survey reports there
are 10,117 housing units in West Linn. Of those, 7,346 are detached (single family). The Energy
Trust of Oregon says that the average electric consumption in all electric homes is 19,164 kWhs per
year and in gas heated homes it’s 9,336 kWhs per year. Not considering all other households,
commercial, public or other uses, just the detached homes in West Linn will use between 67 million
kWhs annually if all were gas heated and 141 million kWhs if all were electrically heated. The scale
of the 3 million kWh solar project now has context.
The ODOT solar highway project being considered represents 2 percent to 4 percent of the
electricity used just by these homes in West Linn, if the homes in West Linn average about 1800
square feet (the median size used by the Energy Trust). According to that same US Census
community survey, homes in Oregon have 5.3 rooms on average while homes in West Linn have
6.6 or 25 percent more rooms on average – which might suggest a higher average square foot size
and therefore even higher electricity consumption as noted by the Energy Trust.
For those concerned about the project scale, it is worth noting that there is simply no comparison
between what the solar highway will produce and what West Linn households alone consume
today. Those 7,346 West Linn households use from 1.5 – 3 times the electricity required by the
entire state transportation system. In just 8 –16 days, these households will use more electricity
than the solar highway project will produce in a year – and yet through this project the sun shining
on the ground around a highway maintenance yard could sustainably supply one-sixth of the
electricity needed for the state highway system throughout PGE’s service area.
What about the controversy surrounding the Business Energy Tax Credit (BETC)? People seem
to be questioning its public benefit.
The Oregon Legislature established the BETC as a financing tool specifically to encourage public
and private sector investment in renewable energy and conservation technologies. While there may
be other financing tools to encourage renewable energy, from the standpoint of public policy the
legislature preferred the BETC.
The BETC enables ODOT to engage the private sector to invest in and construct solar highway
projects on the highway right of way. The BETC allowed ODOT and PGE to develop the nation’s
first solar highway project at the I-5 and I-205 interchange (see www.oregonsolarhighway.com
ODOT can only use the financing tools the Oregon legislature makes available to construct solar
highway projects. Right now, that means ODOT will use the BETC for the solar highway projects. If
the legislature alters its policies on renewable energy development, ODOT will use whatever
financing tools the Oregon legislature provides.
I heard that solar panels only have an expected life of only 25-30 years with a 20 percent
degradation in output near the end of that period?
It’s interesting to note solar panels produced over 50 years ago are still producing energy today.
The solar highway projects under contemplation are expected to produce clean, renewable, homegrown
energy easily and efficiently for at least 30 years, and likely far past that. ODOT will have the
option to extend the solar power agreements with PGE at the end of the first 25 year period, for up
to 3 five year terms. If conditions allow, projects may extend past then as well.
Even though the warranty would be for 25 years, a considerably longer performance period is
anticipated, and although the warranty is based on degradation of less than 19 percent over 25
years, a considerably lower degradation is anticipated. For the solar highway demonstration project,
the conservation financing assumptions were based on a degradation of 0.5 percent per year, or
less than 12 percent over 25 years (since the first year is at 100 percent).
If this project is viewed in terms of future energy resources, it’s valuable to note that all the energy
stored in the Earth’s reserves of coal, oil and natural gas is equal to the energy supplied by just 20
days of sunshine…and on the 21st day, the sun is still shining.
For more information about Oregon’s solar highway, visit www.oregonsolarhighway.com.
Click here to participate in West Linn’s online forum about the proposed solar highway project.
Stop by the West Linn Public Library or West Linn City Hall for more information about the proposed solar highway project.