County to be first to install solar highway

Wood-burning ban issued for Thursday

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solar highway

project on its way to South Santa Clara County will add a
significant new source of clean energy to the grid, add revenue and
reduce costs for public agencies and create jobs, according to the
developers.
A “solar highway” project on its way to South Santa Clara County will add a significant new source of clean energy to the grid, add revenue and reduce costs for public agencies and create jobs, according to the developers.

San Jose-based Republic Cloverleaf Solar is working with the California Department of Transportation to install a 15-megawatt solar power system consisting of 64,000 photovoltaic panels, and occupying about 65 acres of land at seven intersections along U.S. 101, from Masten Avenue in San Martin to Branham Lane in San Jose.

A public meeting is scheduled to discuss the proposal 6 p.m. tonight at Ann Sobrato High School, 401 Burnett Ave.

The system is expected to be online by January 2012, and will produce enough electricity to supply 3,000 single-family homes, according to Republic senior vice president Michael Van Every.

The pilot solar highway project will be the first of its kind in California, and is intended to demonstrate how clean electricity can be generated on the state’s thousands of miles of state-owned freeway interchanges.

“It’s a practical way to utilize space that’s not being maintained, and is vacant, and to practically provide renewable power in locations where the demand is high,” Van Every said. “It meets a lot of sweet spots, not just in today’s world, but for the future.”

Intersections with U.S. 101 that will be developed with the solar infrastructure are Masten Avenue, San Martin Avenue, Tennant Avenue, East Dunne Avenue, Coyote Creek Drive, Highway 85, and Branham Lane.

The project is funded entirely by the private developer.

Republic will pay Caltrans for a 35-year lease to use the freeway’s right-of-way or “air space,” creating a new revenue source for the public agency, Van Every said.

Plus, Republic will take over landscaping and litter maintenance responsibilities on the properties, saving taxpayers the cost, he added.

Construction is expected to begin September 2011. The process will create about 280 construction jobs, plus 30 permanent jobs, Van Every said.

When complete, the system will tie into the PG&E power grid, and Republic will sell the energy to the utility company through a 20-year agreement, Van Every said.

The state of California has set goals, as part of its energy policies, to increase the use and availability of renewable energy sources as the state grows. Republic’s solar highway project has been touted by green energy advocates, local and state officials as a promising method to contribute to those goals. For example, it will offset more than 14,800 tons of carbon released into the atmosphere every year – equivalent to about 2.1 million automobile miles.

“This project is an innovative and unique idea to develop infill photovoltaic power systems along California highways,” said former Secretary of Commerce and Transportation Norman Mineta. “I see the solar highways project as a national model for mid-size solar energy production across the country. The creation of new jobs and revenue is much-needed good news for Silicon Valley and for our state.”

The local stretch of the freeway was selected for the pilot solar highway mainly for practical reasons, Van Every said. Caltrans’ criteria for the project were that the solar panels must be accessible by local roads and not by freeway lanes, and they should be close to a transmission site in order to maximize efficiency.

That site is the Metcalf Energy facility in south San Jose, where Republic’s project can be plugged in.

“It was very fortuitous, and that’s what this pilot project is about – creating the criteria for Caltrans to understand and inventory future sites,” Van Every said.

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