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Portland soon will get its largest solar array yet, at the Oregon Convention Center.


The sprawling complex, marked by the striking twin towers at 777 N.E. Martin Luther King Jr. Blvd. in Portland, will have 160,000 square feet of solar panels installed on the roof, achieving a goal first set in 2009.

The two-megawatt solar panel system will cost $2 million, with $500,000 coming from a grant from Pacific Power’s Blue Sky energy program, and an additional $200,000 supplied by the Energy Trust of Oregon.

Contractor SolarCity will build and own the solar array, selling the power wholesale to the Oregon Convention Center in a 20-year deal.

It helps that the price of solar panels has dropped by 63 percent since 2010. Photovoltaic solar systems now cost less than $3 per watt to install, according to the Solar Energy Industries Association.

The panels will fulfill about 25 percent of the building’s annual energy needs, which now cost about $785,000 per year, according to Matt Uchtman, the convention center’s director of operations.

The convention center is owned by Metro, the Portland area’s elected regional government. It’s well-known for its sustainable practices, including upgrades to LED lighting, water-conserving bathroom fixtures, recycling, composting and a rain garden to help with stormwater management.

“We are continually looking at lighting retrofits, fine-tuning our financial structure,” says Uchtman, pointing out new LED lights and hinting that the towers might be colorfully lit up soon.

It was the world’s first convention center to earn LEED certification as a green building from the U.S. Green Building Council. Along with Denver, it’s one of only two convention centers in the country to be certified LEED platinum, the highest level of certification. It also meets the ASTM green meeting standards.

“One of the things more spectacular about being LEED, half the building was built before LEED existed ... 25 years ago,” says Scott Cruickshank, convention center executive director. “We still have the original boilers and chillers.”

The facility’s energy consumption topped 10.9 megawatts in 2011, but managers have deployed many strategies to shave energy use. The building now uses about 7.6 to 8 megawatts of energy annually.

“Our utility usage is dropping, but we’re not done,” Uchtman says. The convention center aims to host more businesses without leaving a bigger footprint.

The convention center staff educates exhibitors on how to recycle or reuse promotion materials, and advocates that staff turn off lights, space heaters and computers. The center kept 69 percent of its waste out of the landfill in 2013 through recycling, composting and reuse. It donated 100,000 pounds of food to the Blanchet House, Oregon Food Bank and other organizations.

“We are committed to ongoing LEED certification and continually looking at ways to drive positive change at the convention center, and always hope to be sustainable,” Cruickshank says.

The solar array installation is slated to be completed by mid-July.

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