Oregon State begins solar power project

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CORVALLIS, Ore. -- Oregon State University will begin generating its own solar power in January.

The university, in conjunction with SolarWorld and SolarCity, is close to completing the installation of solar panels at two sites that will be capable of producing 860,000 kilowatt-hours per year.

That much power is the equivalent of reducing the carbon dioxide emissions of more than 66,000 gallons of gasoline.

The panels are being set up on four acres of OSU land adjacent to Trysting Tree Golf Club and east of the Benton County Fairgrounds.

SolarWorld supplied more than 3,000 high-performance solar panels. SolarCity installed, owns, maintains and operates the equipment. OSU will buy the power from SolarCity at a rate that is "a little bit more than half" of what the university pays Pacific Power, according to university sustainability coordinator Brandon Trelstad.

"Energy efficiency is still a top priority, but solar power will play an increasingly key role in reducing our greenhouse gas emissions," Trelstad said. "There is no way OSU can invest in renewable energy infrastructure at this scale without developing public-private partnerships."

The OSU project is one of five renewable energy demonstration projects coordinated by the Oregon University System. OSU's project, which is the first to be completed, will expand to 10 acres by the fall of 2013 and will provide 3 to 5 percent of OSU's power needs, Trelstad said.

The installation is all but complete, with final work this week. After inspections from Linn and Benton County officials, the university will apply for "final connection" with Pacific Power.

There is no firm date for the project to begin producing power, but Trelstad said early January was likely. The panels will be capable of producing power at full strength on day one.

"The capacity will be ready as soon as full sun hits the arrays," said Trelstad. "But we might have to wait for a summer day to get the full benefit."

Trelstad, who has been sustainability coordinator at OSU since 2005, has been involved with the project for more than four years. Most of that time has been spent on financial arrangements. Construction did not begin until last summer.

Initial plans with a different solar developer collapsed amid the economic downturn of 2008-09.