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Largest solar array in state shines at PCC
Photos and Story by James Hill
The largest solar array in the state is at Portland Community College.
The college introduced the 35,000-square-foot solar array, based at the Rock Creek Campus, to the public, and state and local officials in May (see photo gallery below). The project’s construction was funded by dollars from the 2008 bond measure and is expected to produce nearly 10 million kilowatt hours during the next 20 years.
Margi Hoffman, Governor John Kitzhaber’s energy policy advisor, said the solar array reflects smart business by using energy efficiency, which she said is the cheapest way to meet energy demand. She added that the array will provide PCC with more stability in its energy bills and the investment will help create jobs.
“This is really exciting,” Hoffman said. “On behalf of the Governor I really want to commend Portland Community College for working diligently to transition their buildings to a clean energy future. They are working actively to make their buildings more energy efficient and to find ways to power their buildings through onsite renewable energy generation.”
The 500-kilowatt array is a partnership between PCC and The Energy Trust of Oregon, SolarCity, SolarWorld and the Oregon Department of Energy. State Rep. Jules Bailey, who co-chairs the Energy, Environment and Water Committee in the House, applauded the partnership.
“PCC has made an investment in our future by making an investment in clean power that meets our energy security goals, meets our national security goals and meets our jobs security goals,” he said.
The array will be owned, operated and maintained by SolarCity, and sheep from the school’s farm will help keep weeds away from the panels by grazing around, and under it. The college will have the option to purchase the array after 20 years. PCC is required to spend 1.5 percent of the value of its capital projects on solar energy initiatives and this project meets that requirement.
“This is a great partnership between local businesses and the community and the college that serves them,” said Rock Creek Campus President David Rule. “You can’t beat it.”
Rule said Rock Creek Campus staff and faculty have already given tours to school children, who can see how much carbon has been saved and how much energy is being produced at meter stations by the array. He said the main benefit is that it will enhance existing PCC academic programs all over the district that focus on green jobs and green innovations. For students in physics, science, math, microelectronics, engineering, quality control and land use, the array will be a key tool in their learning.
“This is a learning example for the college and for the students coming out of the college, who will only help to promote and define what renewable energy is moving forward,” said Kip Barrett, project development manager for SolarCity. “PCC is fantastic.”
PCC and SolarWorld have already enjoyed a long-standing relationship where faculty provide workforce development assistance to the company. Gordon Brinser, President of SolarWorld Industries America, said his company has established a scholarship through the PCC Foundation to promote diversity, serving nine students to date.
“PCC has truly walked the talk when it comes to buying local and supporting local manufacturing and we are grateful for your leadership,” Brinser said. “Our nation’s future economic status relies, in part, on leadership like this because American manufacturing is our economic lifeblood.”
Washington County Commissioner Greg Malinowski said the unemployment rate among local counties is lower in Washington County and he partially credits PCC for that.
“When an employer comes to this area he can count on the fact that if he needs a workforce or workforce training he can work with PCC to have classes set up to help him find employees that are trained and ready to go, which helps his bottom line,” Malinowski said.
District President Preston Pulliams said the new solar facility shows that PCC is dedicated to its Climate Action Plan and its sustainability program. As part of that plan, PCC wants to reduce carbon emissions at PCC by 80 percent to get below the levels of 1990 by the year 2050.
“This project will help the college certainly move forward in meeting that goal,” Pulliams said. “The college will generate more energy and spend public dollars far more effectively and efficiently. The college looks to save more than a million dollars over the long term as a result of this exciting partnership.”