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Mt. Ashland solar array will supply 12 percent of ski area's power

The Mt. Ashland Ski Area has a new solar array that will supply 12 percent of the area's electrical usage.

“We are trying to take a much longer view, providing those electrons for many years to come. That helps us to be more financially sustainable,” said General Manager Hiram Towle. “It’s something we are proud to be working on. We are trying to be leaders in the industry.”

True South Solar of Ashland completed the installation in early August. Project costs were covered by a $65,000 grant from Pacific Power’s Blue Sky program, $25,000 from Energy Trust of Oregon and $25,000 from the ski area.

Energy generated by the system will be used to power the shop operations, but excess will be fed into Pacific Power's grid.

Revenue generated from sale of electricity to Pacific Power would pay back the ski area's $25,000 investment in about five years, said Towle. But the nonprofit organization is conducting a fund drive to cover the costs.

The 85 panels were placed atop the area’s vehicle shop and are visible from the parking lot. In winter, skiers and boarders will see them from Upper Juliet, Ado and other ski runs. Mt. Ashland’s outlay included replacement of a section of roofing that could have lasted longer but would have required removal of the panels for replacement later.

“We had to account for Mt. Ashland being the windiest location in Southern Oregon and also the most snow of any installation in Southern Oregon,” said Eric Hansen, general manager of True South. The installation is designed to withstand winds of up to 150 mph. Another mountain installation handled a 3-foot snow load for over a month last winter, he said.

“We are really concerned about making power when there is not a lot of snow up there,” said Hansen. “It will be building up a massive credit in the summertime, then draw on that credit in the winter."

The panels carry a 25-year warranty, but Hansen said project life is estimated at 50 to 100 years.

Assistance in obtaining the grant was provided by Carl Kish of STOKE Certified, an organization that provides assessment of resort practices, policies, community engagement and environmental sustainability. Mt. Ashland contracted with the organization in 2015 to provide a roadmap for those areas. Mt. Ashland Development Director Michael Stringer helped write the grant applications.

People have asked Towle if the power would be used to provide electricity when electrical service to the area goes down, which sometimes happens during the winter. Towle said the arrangement won’t allow that, noting a battery bank would be required to store electricity if the whole area were to be powered during a failure in the feeder line system.

Mt. Ashland’s solar energy production can be monitored on the area’s webpage at www.mtashland.com. Visitors will be able to view the output at a display kiosk in the lodge.

Tony Boom is an Ashland freelance writer. Reach him at tboomwriter@gmail.com.