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"NE Portland community center goes solar, saves taxpayers thousands"

Matt Dishman Community Center is now using solar power to offset its energy consumption, thanks to a federal grant the city has been using for energy upgrades throughout town. The folks who use the community center at 77 N.E. Knott Street likely haven't noticed a change because you can't really see the shiny new solar panels from the street.

"NE Portland community center goes solar, saves taxpayers thousands"

Matt Dishman Community Center’s project will generate nearly 50,000 net kilowatt hours of energy savings per year, or about $3,800 of annual energy cost. (photo by Shannon L. Cheesman, KATU.com Producer/Reporter)

By Shannon L. Cheesman
KATU News
>>click here to read original article

PORTLAND, Ore. - A local community center is now using solar power to offset its energy consumption, thanks to a federal grant the city has been using for energy upgrades throughout town.

The folks who use the Matt Dishman Community Center at 77 N.E. Knott Street likely haven't noticed a change because you can't really see the shiny new solar panels from the street.

But what those solar panels will do for the city, and for taxpayers, is save money - something we all like to hear. And the savings begin now, not somewhere down the road.

That's because the project was entirely paid for by a federal Energy Efficiency and Conservation Block Grant. The city received $5.6 million for energy upgrades and used $237,000, about 5 percent of the fund, for the Matt Dishman Community Center.

So why this particular community center? Well it's a pretty busy one that uses a fair amount of power. According to the city about 140,000 visitors step through the center's doors every year.

"With 140,000 people, that's a lot of energy that is going to be utilized by a lot of folks," said Mark Ross, Public Information Officer for Portland Parks and Recreation. "So it was a great fit."

The new solar panels won't power the entire building but they will generate about 49,000 kilowatt hours a year, which is equivalent to what it would take to power five households. The city will be shaving about $3,800 a year off its energy bill.

The Matt Dishman Community Center is not the only community center that has benefited from the grant money - the gymnasiums at Montavilla, Fulton Park and Hillside community centers got lighting upgrades. And the city has used the grant money for a number of other energy upgrades throughout town, including changing traffic lights to LED. All of the money has been dedicated to various projects, many of which are already done.

Putting the grant money to good use is one part of the city's bigger plan to someday use only renewable energy. That's a big bite to chew, but the solar panel project at the Matt Dishman Community Center puts Portland one step closer to that ideal.

"The goal is for our city facilities to have 100 percent of their electricity generated by renewable resources like wind farms or bio gas plants or solar electric systems like the one at Dishman," said David Tooze, Senior Energy Specialist for the City of Portland's Bureau of Planning and Sustainability.

WHY SOLAR?

One question you might be asking is whether solar panels can really do the job here in Portland where we often see overcast skies. Energy experts say it's not a problem at all.

"Remarkably, the Willamette Valley is a good resource for generating electricity," said Tooze. "The worldwide leader in installing solar systems is Germany. The Willamette Valley gets more sun than Germany does. It's not as good as the desert southwest, but it's still a good site for solar."

ABOUT THE SOLAR PANELS

The solar panel installation on top of the Matt Dishman Community Center is officially called a photovoltaic solar array. What does that mean? 

"There are two kinds of solar that are commonly used on buildings - solar hot water or solar electric. Photovoltaic is solar electric," explained Laurie Hutchinson, Renewable Solutions Coordinator for EC Electrical Construction, the company that installed the panels.

There are 204 solar panels total that produce about 250 watts each. An inverter converts the solar panels' DC electricity into AC, which can then be used in the building.

The solar panels have an estimated life span of about 25 years, but could produce power much longer than that.

"The modules are glass. They have no moving parts in them so they don't wear out," explained Tooze. "Now the amount of electricity degrades slightly over time but with having no moving parts, these modules could be generating electricity 30 and 40 years from now."

"I think the original solar panels that were ever made are still in use," said Hutchinson. "The modules are the strongest piece of the system."

KEEPING IT LOCAL

EC Electrical Construction Co. has a five-year agreement with the city to work on developing solar projects and this was the first one out of the gate. Hutchinson said one of the big pieces of the project was that the city wanted everything kept local.

To that end, the company used solar panels from Solar World in Hillsboro, got the inverter from a company based out of Bend and worked with local subcontractors.

"And then there was the 'Buy American' component," Hutchinson said. "Because this is a federally funded project, it's under the Buy American provision. So all of the pieces and parts had to be procured either locally or all USA made."

 
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