For the past year, Oregon State University and the North Willamette Research and Extension Center (NWREC) have been working on plans to construct a solar array on its 160 acre farm across from Charbonneau and Miley Road. OSU’s experimental farm has been located in the area since 1960. The solar array is part of a larger OSU initiative to utilize alternative energy at its facilities. OSU is installing five solar arrays—three in Corvallis area and two at off-campus locations in the state.
“We are excited to work with OSU on this project,” said Mike Bondi, NWREC’s Director. “Our goal is to become a more sustainable farm and generating our own electricity is a step in this direction.” The new one-acre solar array at NWREC includes four rows of panels with each row 400 feet long. The array will generate up to 80% of the farm’s electrical needs and save the Center up to $15,000 each year in energy costs. “This will have a huge impact on our operational costs. With reduced funding from government resources in recent years, we are being challenged to come up with other ways to cover expenses. Solar is one approach.”
Site preparation for the new solar array at NWREC began in late October. Trees along the fence line adjacent to Miley Road were removed. An arborvitae hedge row was planted for visual screening. A service access gate and road were installed on the west property line. During the second and third weeks of November all posts were set for the racking system that holds the solar panels. Most construction is planned to be complete by the end of November. Electrical hook ups and setting the transformer and inverter will be complete before Christmas. Testing and connecting to the utility’s electrical lines will occur in January. Solar production should be ready to begin in February—at least, if the sun is shining!
During the week of December 9—just one month after beginning construction—most work on the Solar Array project at the North Willamette Research and Extension Center has been completed. During this time 172 steel posts were driven into the one-acre site, racking or framing was assembled for the four row array, 868 solar panels were hung, and all the trenching and electrical wiring was installed to connect the panels and bring all of this together in an inverter that will convert the DC current to AC.
The final steps of the project will be the placing a transformer by power utility, PGE, and the testing, evaluation and monitoring of the system to ensure power flows back to the grid. It is projected that the 220- kilowatt solar array will generate about 80% of the entire power utility needs of the 160-acre agricultural research center including all of the greenhouses, wells and irrigation pumps, and the office buildings and meeting rooms.
According to Mike Bondi, Director for the North Willamette Research and Extension Center, “It has been amazing to see how quickly this project came together. Even though the weather was very wet the first week in November when we were doing the site preparation and setting up the road access, equipment and storage for the construction, we have enjoyed mostly clear, dry and cold weather. So, work has progressed quickly.”
Besides the final steps of placing the transformer, hooking to the grid and testing, the remaining tasks will include a perimeter fence around the array for safety and vegetative screening. All work should be complete by year’s end. Bondi expects the array will be producing electricity sometime in January—assuming we have sunny days!
The Next Steps-June 2014 Project Update