Students fund solar expansion at SOU farm

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Sep. 26—A student-funded solar project at Southern Oregon University will generate an additional 15.48 kilowatts, adding to the university's nine other solar arrays and 450-kilowatt clean energy capacity.

A solar array installed on a storage building at The Farm at SOU in mid-September leveraged an Oregon Department of Energy grant of about $15,000 combined with $30,000 from the SOU Green Fund, which is replenished with a "Green Tag" fee of $13 per student each term and energy agreements embedded in other student-funded sustainability projects, said Rebecca Walker, SOU sustainability and recycling manager.

The Green Fund allows SOU student government to invest in sustainability projects and offset the university's water usage.

The Associated Students of Southern Oregon University oversees the Green Fund, and project decisions are made by the student Environmental Affairs Committee, Walker said.

Projects estimated to cost more than $5,000, including the new solar array, undergo review by a sustainability council composed of staff, faculty and students, which sends recommendations back to the student committee for final approval, she said.

Students are fueled by the idea of seeing solar on every roof, expanding SOU's clean energy footprint in the community and reducing the institution's greenhouse gas emissions, Walker said. On-campus solar covers about 10% of electricity use.

"Solar is becoming more accessible," she said. "When you've got projects funded in different ways, then it's more accessible for that energy generated by solar to reach different parts of the community, but also to think more creatively about how we can get more solar panels out there."

"It makes sense for our energy security, our energy pricing, to think like this," she continued. "We're moving away from fossil fuels, and we have to move away from fossil fuels because of climate change."

A group of students and staff assessed bids on The Farm solar project, enhancing the educational value for students involved, Walker said. Companies were considered based on sustainability and community contribution, previous project experience and price. Ashland-based True South Solar was selected to install the storage building array.

A second, privately funded project placed six solar trackers atop elevated panels adjacent to solar panels on ScienceWorks property. The solar array uses dual-axis tracking technology to maximize efficiency and output by following the path of the sun throughout the day, according to an SOU news release.

Abbott's Development financed the project. Together, solar trackers at The Farm and ScienceWorks are slated to produce 160 megawatts of electricity annually.

"It is a coincidence that these projects happened within a few days of each other, but it is also indicative of our commitment to sustainability and environmental stewardship," Walker said.

Abbott's leased the property for the new array from SOU and uses the city's virtual net metering system to direct power output to the company's cottage rental properties, according to the release. The university receives an annual lease payment, all renewable energy credits associated with the project, and access to the solar facility for education and research.

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