Now you can get a side of solar energy tourism with your rest stop along Interstate 5 in Oregon. In August, the new Baldock Solar Station, which boasts 6,994 solar array panels on seven acres, officially opened on the east side of a rest area just south of Wilsonville, Ore.

Now drivers can not only swing by the 1.75dc megawatt solar array that produces 1.97 million kilowatt hours of energy annually as they have since it connected to the grid in January 2012, but a new interpretive display that opened in August—and a sustainable community garden designed by local Master Gardeners to show off the area—offer a bit more explanation behind Oregon’s effort to create an Oregon Solar Highway Program.

The construction project started in August 2011 and formed a partnership between Portland General Electric and the Oregon Department of Transportation, the agency that owns the land. It was a “Made in Oregon” project throughout, with the solar panels being supplied by SolarWorld of Hillsboro and the inverters from Advanced Energy in Bend. Aadland Evans Constructors Inc., of Portland, served as the general contractor, while other local Oregon companies (Moyano Leadership Group Inc., Salem; Advanced Energy Systems, Eugene; HatiCon Solar, Portland; and PHC Northwest, Portland, for example) helped PGE offer new renewable energy to the grid, specifically to ODOT.

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Because ODOT owns a portion of the Renewable Energy Certificates for the Baldock project, which certifies the ownership of green power, from the moment the array was connected to the grid in January, the Baldock Safety Rest Areas both north and southbound became powered by renewable energy—even when the sun isn’t shining, according to information provided by ODOT. Ownership of the RECs allow ODOT to state that an equivalent portion of the energy produced is used for the operation and maintenance of the state highway system, including powering the Baldock Safety Rest Areas. More specifically, the array generates 11 percent of the electricity needed to power the local ODOT offices.

The funding for the $10 million project, the second such solar highway project in the state, combined private financing, tax credits and public investment. The educational kiosks aim to let travelers know how the Baldock Solar Station took a previously unused parcel of publicly owned land and turned it into a clean, energy-generating highway oasis, all with a handful of other features displayed, including the sustainable plants, “night sky” lighting and a “smart fence.”

With two sites already online, ODOT hopes to continue expanding its solar power on unused property near the highways, including a massive 3 megawatt solar field near West Linn that is already in the planning stages, even if funding hasn’t yet been identified.

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