SOU gets $2M in congressional funds for campus solar arrays

SOU gets $2M in congressional funds for campus solar arrays


By:  Kevin Opsahl

Southern Oregon University cheered Congress Tuesday for securing $2 million to pay for additional solar arrays on campus.

The funds - made possible through a $1.7 billion federal appropriations bill that cleared Congress last week - would go toward SOU's eventual goal of becoming the first energy-independent university in the country.

"This allocation will allow us to take a substantial step toward our goal, and it reinforces our institution's commitment to environmental stewardship, financial prudence and responsible leadership," SOU President Rick Bailey said in a news release. "We look forward to beginning our next round of solar installations to further reduce both our dependence on the electrical grid and the day-to-day costs of powering a 21st century campus."

The new federal allocation is known as Forging Oregon’s Renewable Energy Source Transition Through Reimagining Education + Energy (FOREST TREE) Project, according to a release from U.S. senators Jeff Merkley and Ron Wyden.

The project will help pay for additional solar arrays on SOU’s parking lots and rooftops, SOU said, but not much more information was provided surrounding how the $2 million would be used.

Joe Mosley, director of community and media relations, told the Mail Tribune Tuesday it is not clear which buildings or which parking lots would host the new arrays, as the university must go through a request for proposals process to find a company to make those upgrades.

"That is for this portion of the overall project, the $2 million," Mosley said. "That’s going to be the question — which company is best? It’s not solely based on price, but it’s who can do what we are hoping to achieve the best."

Mosley said he is not sure when the RFP will go out, but the process likely would be "fast-tracked" within a number of months.

Further, the SOU spokesperson was not sure when the new solar arrays would be fully installed.

"It would be impossible to even guess about that until we see some of the responses to the RFP," Mosley said. "I assume there would be activity sometime in 2023, but I can’t say that for sure."

Mosley said the university envisions parking structures covered with solar panels.

"Primarily, this project is where we start putting some solar arrays in parking lots. That’s going to be one of our big focuses going forward," he said.

SOU is celebrating the $2 million rake in federal funds merely two months after Oregon Department of Energy awarded the university $1 million to help pay for solar arrays at the The Hawk Dining Commons and Lithia Motors Pavilion/Student Recreation Center complex.

In September 2021, the university announced solar arrays on the student-run farm, located off Walker Avenue.

SOU’s first solar array — a 6-kilowatt project with 24 solar panels — was installed on the rooftop of Hannon Library in 2000.

SOU currently has nine solar arrays on campus, as well as an array at the RCC/SOU Higher Education Center in Medford, and a pole-mounted array installed last year by a nonprofit on land leased from SOU.

"I think sustainability and environmental consciousnesses has been a part of the SOU overall values for many years, and it is being expressed even more emphatically now," Mosley said.