Saturday, January 28, 2012

Sun Strokes

Oregon embraces fresh ideas and free thinkers. That's why it should come as no surprise that the state's second solar highway project - a continuation of the success of the nation's first solar array on highway right of way - will become the United State's largest!

The Baldock Solar Highway Project, a 1.75 megawatt direct current solar array consisting of 6,994, 250-watt panels, will generate up to 1.97 million kilowatt-hours of clean, renewable energy -- enough electricity to power 165 homes for a year! Situated on 7 acres of vacant state-owned rest area land, this project - like the first - partners Portland General Electric (PGE) with the Oregon Department of Transportation (ODOT) under the dedicated and skillful direction of ODOT's Project Manager Allison Hamilton. Moreover, it's an "all-Oregon" creation with local companies supplying all of the materials as well as designing, installing, operating, and maintaining the site.

Considering this was the second time I've had the good fortune to document a complete solar project from start to finish, my charge was to devise a new strategy -- so in addition to photographing all of the construction-related activities, I focused on the essence of this technology - the panels - trying to exploit the elements of design that they embody. I was looking for brush strokes, or more appropriately, Sun Strokes.

Line, shape, space, value, color, and texture: all of these elements were present in abundance and obvious to see on site . . . as long as you took the time to look for them. From the shape and texture of raindrops resting on a panel, to the reflection of the colorful crowd at the groundbreaking shining through, the solar panels offered a myriad of photographic options.

And with its park-like setting, ample foliage, and Willamette Valley location, the Baldock site provided some interesting photo opportunities too. Whether it was revealing the change of seasons or showcasing the iconic Mount Hood, the field of panels complimented the landscape and almost seemed to belong there!

To date, 26 states and 14 countries have contacted ODOT for information to develop their own solar highway projects and programs. The Baldock site will also include an interpretive display where the public can view the array and learn more about the process and advantages of solar energy, hopefully planting the idea for residents to consider using renewable energy to power their homes. ODOT's future holds the promise of over 120 miles of solar highway installations in Oregon one day and I look forward to seeing all of those panels in operation. But right now, the panel I really want to see is at the Baldock site . . . because it has my signature on it!

(Note: for more information about the first Solar Highway Demonstration Project, please see "#16 - Here Comes the Sun", in the January 2009 archive. To keep up to date with the entire program, please visit: