In an effort to reduce its reliance on conventional electricity, Medford is looking to the sun.

In an effort to reduce its reliance on conventional electricity, Medford is looking to the sun.

A car powered primarily by photovoltaic panels may be part of the Building Department's fleet by the fall and a solar power plant proposal is under review by the Public Works Department.

Chris Reising, building department director, said plans are to take one of the department's three hybrid cars and add more batteries to it, increasing the "electric only" mode of the gas/electric car.

The project also includes building a carport and installing solar panels on the roof that would produce as much as 3,000 watts of energy when the sun is shining. He said gas mileage would be increased from 30 to 60 miles per gallon.

"You get (to drive) about 40 to 50 miles on a recharge, which is about what a normal (building) inspector does on a normal day," he said. The project, estimated to cost $58,200, would be funded through the department's contingency fund and could be eligible for an Oregon Energy Trust rebate. Unless gas prices skyrocket, he doesn't expect the car to pay for itself.

Photovoltaic (photo means light and voltaic means electricity) cells are made up of materials that absorb light and convert it into electricity. From calculators and wristwatches to emergency road signs and satellites, use of photovoltaic cells is on the rise.

The project came out of City Manager Mike Dyal's request that departments look for alternative energy resources.

"It's a way to kind of get our foot in the door," said Reising.

Medford City Councilman Al Densmore, who is seeking a large-scale solar project for the city, contacted SunEnergy Power Corporation in Bend, which submitted a proposal last week to the Public Works Department for a solar electric power plant.

The proposal calls for a system that would produce more than 3.2 million kilowatt hours of electricity.

SunEnergy is a for-profit corporation organized to develop commercial-scale solar electric projects in the U.S. The company is building systems at the airport and atop a parking structure for the city of Bend.

Jim Hill, water reclamation administrator for Medford public works, said the company would find investors who would invest in the construction and receive the tax credits. The company would sell the electricity to the water reclamation plant at less than the cost of conventional electricity. The project would cost investors $18 million to build, and the city would host the solar system on land near the water reclamation plant.

Hill said it's too soon to say whether the city will approve the proposal.

"At this point we're interested and we're pursuing it and we're going to do research," said Hill.

Jackson County Expo in Central Point has solar panels atop a pavilion. The pavilion, which went live a year ago, is powered by a 24.75-kilowatt photovoltaic system that's capable of providing electricity for three households.

Dyal said his requests for Medford staff to seek efficiencies was partly to reduce costs. He said he also asked staff to look for other ways to function if something should happen to the conventional electricity source.

Dyal said the two proposals are just the first explorations of solar electric projects.

"We'll be doing more," he said.

Reach reporter Meg Landers at 776-4481 or e-mail mlanders@mailtribune.com.