Oregon Convention Center in negotiations for rooftop solar panels

The Oregon Convention Center roof may soon be host to 160,000 square feet of solar panels in what director Scott Cruickshank calls the next big project in the center’s sustainability work.

Officials from the convention center are negotiating with Solar City to install as much as to two megawatts of solar panels, which could supply 25 percent of the center’s annual electricity.

In the proposed agreement, Solar City would own the panels and pay for installation, possibly with the assistance of a grant from Pacific Power’s Blue Sky Program.

In exchange for hosting the company’s panels on the roof, the convention center will lock in reduced power rates for 20 years, significantly reducing energy costs annually. At the end of the contract the center would have the option to negotiate a renewed purchase agreement, acquire the equipment at fair market value, or have the company remove the panels altogether.

The project is expected to cost about $3 million.

Solar panels have been a goal at the convention center since 2009, but with a new roof on the original building just completed in October and competition in the solar industry making solar panels cheaper and more efficient, the center has brought the goal to the forefront for 2015.

It’s part of a long-term effort to improve the convention center’s sustainability. It was designated as LEED Platinum in 2014.

“We are anticipating a savings of approximately four megawatts (below 2009 levels) by end of December because of our energy efficiency projects, participation in the ETO Strategic Energy Management program and employee engagement activities,” Matthew Uchtman, director of operations at the Oregon Convention Center, said in an email.

“We are using less energy now with more business than historically ever,” Cruickshank said.

Administrators are also researching options for upgrading the lighting in the building’s iconic glass spires by spring 2015. Each tower is illuminated by 25 450-watt halogen bulbs. LED lighting, and even color illumination, are in consideration for the upgrades.

The Oregon Convention Center is one of two convention centers in the nation to earn LEED Platinum certification and the first convention center to receive Salmon Safe Certification.

In 2003 the convention center installed 318-foot long rain garden, which captures, cleans and retains runoff from the nearly six acre roof area. A series of wetland plant beds, spillways, and storm water retention ponds, the rain garden provides natural filtration of storm water before it returns to the Willamette River.

“The convention center showcases Portland’s commitment to a sustainable future,” Cruickshank said.

The facility has already upgraded bathroom fixtures saving about 1.2 million gallons of water per year, and divert 69 percent of its waste from landfills through donation programs of materials as well as meals to Blanchet House and the Oregon Food Bank.

Cruickshank said he expects the solar panel agreements to be finalized within a few weeks, and hopes the solar panels will be tapping the summer sun for power by next year.

Original feature appeared at Metro News
Photo credit: Oregon Convention Center.