Catching some sun in a good way

It is perhaps fitting that as the Rogue Valley suffers through the hottest weather of the year, local officials are talking seriously about solar power.

Of course, solar power doesn't require hot weather, just sunlight. It works fine on bright winter days, too. And not only would the latest solar proposal earn money for the Medford airport, it would harness the power of federal stimulus dollars as well as that of the sun.

Jackson County is applying for a stimulus grant to install 12 large solar panels on county-owned land near the airport, south of Crater Lake Highway. The initial grant of $5 million, if approved, would also install the sophisticated equipment needed to feed electricity into the power grid.

Eventually, the county hopes to install 140 panels, which would generate enough power to supply more than 1,500 homes. The proceeds from selling the electricity could generate as much as $1.2 million a year for the airport.

In addition to this solar farm, the county wants to create sun-powered projects at the Jackson County Expo and in the short-term parking area at the airport.

There are many reasons why these projects make sense. One benefit, especially to those who fly out of Medford, is that the airport could reduce the fees it charges and therefore the price of airline tickets.

But the advantages extend beyond that obvious payoff.

The county already owns the land, so no property purchase is required.

New solar technology has reduced the cost of solar panels by nearly half. What was an unsuccessful request for $100 million in stimulus money has become a request for less than $60 million, $45 million of which would build the solar farm.

The project would create jobs for the workers needed to erect the panels, and earn some money for the county at the same time.

Some heavy-hitters have signed on in support of the project, including the governor, U.S. Rep. Greg Walden and both of Oregon's U.S. senators. Pacific Power is not only willing to buy the power that would be generated — helping to reduce its reliance on hydroelectric dams and other sources — but has expressed interest in investing in the project as well. The natural gas company Avista Corp. also is supporting the project.

The biggest benefit by far, however, could be public-private partnerships between local businesses and the county to create more solar projects.

Southern Oregon is especially suited to solar power projects because of its abundant sunshine.

That sunshine has had us wishing for a few raindrops lately, but we have to admit, making money from it is a pretty cool idea.

Share This Story