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

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

“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.