Higher Education Center goes solar

Stimulus grant helps SOU/RCC building gain platinum rating for green technology

Thanks to federal stimulus money, the new Higher Education Center in Medford will begin to go solar today, installing a mass of photovoltaic panels on its roof.

The additions will make the center the first platinum-rated LEED building in Southern Oregon and the first one in the Oregon University System outside the Portland area. LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) is a designation given by the U.S. Green Building Council, an industry group.

The panels will occupy every part of the roof that has good solar access, said Larry Blake director of planning and sustainability at Southern Oregon University, which operates the center jointly with Rogue Community College. Correction: See below.

The solar array is funded by $285,000 from the U.S. Department of Education from the Consolidated Appropriations Act of 2009, plus $92,000 in renewable energy tax credits from the Energy Trust of Oregon. The total cost will be just over $400,000, Blake said.

The panels will produce 55 kilowatts of energy (71,000 kilowatts a year) and reduce the building's electricity bill by 10 percent, resulting in a savings, at 7.2 cents a kilowatt, or $5,170 a year, he said.

The LEED program awards bronze, silver, gold and platinum certifications based on an array of environmental and sustainability measurements.

"It really drives you to make it an efficient building, with all the various targets you have to hit to get there," Blake said, noting that the main benefit came from long-term energy savings and health benefits for occupants.

The HEC will earn the platinum rating, Blake noted, because it already has many other features, including:

  • Energy use that's 37 percent better than the Oregon Energy Code (a savings of $37,330 a year), resulting in 53 percent less water use.
  • Employment of exhaust heat to preheat and precool science labs.
  • Large window-to-wall ratio to reduce artificial lighting.
  • Carbon dioxide sensors that control ventilation based on the number of people in the building.
  • Occupancy sensors that turn off lights in unused rooms.
  • Ultra-low water delivery on flushing and showers.

A kiosk in the atrium will show data on solar energy collection as well as weather information. The data also will be available at www.sou.edu/sustainable.

In a news release, Blake noted that Oregon Sen. Ron Wyden was instrumental in helping the education center earn the grant that will allow the schools to operate "the most environmentally sensitive commercial building in Southern Oregon."

John Darling is a freelance writer living in Ashland. E-mail him at jdarling@jeffnet.org.

Correction: Larry Blake was misidentified in the original version of this article. This version has been corrected.

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