The North Willamette Research and Extension Center in Aurora recently completed a solar panel installation that could save it substantial money down the road

A solar panel array — stretching along Miley Road — is nearly complete.

The array stretches from the entry gate at the extension center to its northwest corner and will allow the NWREC to cut its energy consumption and, hopefully, improve its budget situation.

That’s the goal for Mike Bondi, extension service director.

“This project is part of a bigger effort by Oregon State University to incorporate alternative energy into our locations around the state,” Bondi said. “And that’s actually part of a larger effort by the Oregon University System. Some other public institutions have signed on to explore ways to use alternative energy.”

Construction began in November when Solar City, the project vendor, began preparing the ground and driving 172 steel posts into the ground. These posts will hold the array’s framing and provide a solid base for the panels. In all, there are 868 panels in four rows that stretch more than 400 feet each.

It has been an engineering feat that Bondi said he was impressed by and joins four other OSU-related sites that are changing their energy footprint.

“We are the fifth location for Oregon State,” Bondi said. “There are three locations on or near the OSU campus and another at the extension office in Hermiston.”

The NWREC was invited to participate in the project due to the amount of electricity the facility uses, as well as its location and proximity to the local utility.

“Quite honestly, I think the folks on campus were looking at our power usage and said ‘you guys use quite a bit of power up there,’” Bondi said. “What this will do is generate power for the extension service. We are not a power producer into the grid, we are generating power for our use only. We have a limit on how much power we are allowed to generate.

“If we do generate more than we need, it goes back into the grid and later we can buy power at a reduced rate by receiving credits for our extra power. I’m expecting to see our power bills drop dramatically, I’m hoping for at least 50 percent, which will have a positive effect on our budget.”

Bondi said that Solar City has been good to work with. They arrived Nov. 6 to get things ready and then a week later began driving the steel posts into the ground. The array will be about 400 feet long and 100 feet wide — essentially taking up a full acre of area on extension service land.

The project has cost the extension service and OSU virtually nothing, save the cost of fencing and trees and shrubs that will help soften the sightlines along Miley Road.

Solar City has agreements with utilities that allow them to foot the bill for these projects and gets them tax credits that aren’t available to the extension service or OSU.

“I think it really is a win-win situation,” Bondi said. “This is another use application of the property to help us be more self-sufficient. I also think there will be some nice educational opportunities available.”

The original target date for having the array operational was early February, but with primary installation finishing last week, he’s hopeful the array will start generating power in early January.

“It has been a month and Solar City is just buttoning things up,” he said. “We’ll have a website up that the public can access and see what we’re generating on a day-to-day basis. We’ll also look for applications for agricultural use.”

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