Taxpayers getting good value

TWO VIEWS • Solar highways provide renewable energy, but are they a good deal for citizens?
by: Jaime Valdez, The nation’s first highway solar project at the Interstate 5 and Interstate 205 interchange in Tualatin has operated since 2008. While our opinion writers agree that Oregon should be a solar leader, there is disagreement about whether the current subsidies are justified.

Oregon's Department of Transportation uses more than 47 million kilowatt-hours of electricity each year for the transportation system, which includes roadside lighting, traffic signals, fixed variable message signs, buildings, maintenance shops and more.

The department also has 8,038 miles of state highways with unused real property along most of it. With this space and our electricity needs, we asked how we could put the two together to help Oregon lead the way toward sustainable, alternative energy. Thus was born the nation's first solar highway experiment right here in Oregon last year.

This project is an example of Oregon continuing to lead the nation in innovation, sustainability and clean, renewable energy. It is an example of how public and private partners can come together to deliver on a common goal that benefits not only the parties involved, but the state as a whole, by reducing our use of traditional sources of energy. This in turn reduces our greenhouse gas emissions, while meeting a real need - which is to light our state highways.

Government and the private sector have set the direction in Oregon to increase the use of renewable energy during the next 20 years. As a result, Oregon is poised to be the nation's leader in green energy as new and developing businesses settle here. This national model is possible because of the state's Business Energy Tax Credit and other federal incentives.

It is also worth noting that the inverter manufacturer, the general contractor, the project manager and design leader, the solar power designer and installer, and the sustainability specialist on the Oregon Solar Highway experimental project are all Oregon companies - and that means jobs. Those jobs generate income tax revenue and expenditures at hometown businesses, which benefit all Oregonians.

The bottom line is that the taxpayers get a stable, reliable, sustainable source of energy for their transportation system. The private partners accomplish some of their goals to provide green energy and diversify their services, while getting a good business arrangement for their stockholders. And Oregonians get family wage jobs in a growing sector of the state's and nation's economy.

This experiment in highway solar power at the interchange where Interstate 205 meets Interstate 5 is only the beginning. ODOT is exploring a handful of other sites for more installations - one of which would be the largest solar highway project in the world in West Linn, if it comes to reality.

ODOT is proud of its role in breaking new ground, forging new partnerships and thinking into the future of transportation for solutions that rely less on fossil fuels, contribute less to greenhouse gases and generate jobs in Oregon.

The taxpayers get more use out of what they own, and we all have the satisfaction of knowing that we made a difference.

James Whitty is the Office of Innovative Partnerships manager for the Oregon Department of Transportation.