Promising Steps Towards a Solar-Powered Southern Oregon University

President Rick Bailey has been looking for ways in which Southern Oregon University (SOU) can improve its funding and expenditures. In his Update for September 2022, he discloses that energy consumption is a financial concern we can hope to address sooner rather than later. “When we think about costs, what are some things we can reasonably stop paying for, by being smarter about how we do things? There are two really easy answers to that already. One is in energy.” It’s no secret that energy prices are high while steadily going up. That being said, how can we, as a university, hope to make sustainable cuts to our energy use, and therefore spending, in the coming years? Well, in a recent disclosure of federal funding bills expected to come to Southern Oregon communities, the university is expecting “$2 million for Southern Oregon University for its Forging Oregon’s Renewable Energy Source Transition Through Reimagining Education + Energy (FOREST TREE) Project.” According to Oregon Senator Jeff Merkley, “this funding would be used to support Southern Oregon University’s installation of solar array equipment as part of the University’s initiative to become the first university campus to run on 100% self-generated renewable energy. SOU aims to utilize this funding to eliminate almost $1M annually in electricity costs through solar power.” These are huge goals, so where should we start? 

Today, SOU runs off its own solar energy it generates at 8% due to a green fee that students imposed on themselves 10 years ago, President Bailey said in an interview with the Siskiyou. This is a great first step, though the new goal is to generate up to 7.2 megawatts more from solar energy on campus. The Siskiyou then asked what steps, and how long it could take for SOU to achieve these goals. President Bailey explained that right now, it’s riding on the passing of important bills, community support, and a bit of time.

“It’s our goal to do this within the next several years. I want to be realistic about the time it will take for the entire transition because it will also depend on additional funding. But, we already have a $1 million grant request with the Oregon Department of Energy to add to this work. I suspect that we will also be exploring philanthropic partnerships that could help as well. It will depend on how successful we are at continuing to leverage federal, state, and philanthropic funding to move forward, and the sooner the better. We will continue to make it a priority in terms of our efforts.”

While the timeline is uncertain due to the need for additional funding, important work is being done to move toward the implementation of solar energy. President Bailey expressed that SOU intends to utilize rooftop and parking lot spaces on campus for the coming solar panels. SOU may also expect to see several charging stations for electric vehicles soon.

The Siskiyou questioned what other benefits people should know about when switching to solar as a primary power source. In response, President Bailey explained that solar is the big goal, but the smaller picture; switching to solar would be a catalyst for other sustainable changes, ie, conservation of water, moving towards sustainable agriculture, as well as sustainable changes to heating and cooling systems. The intent is to have a larger impact on Southern Oregon communities, starting with SOU. 

When asked how students can get involved to help SOU and their local community with this transition, the President of SOU expressed that these sustainable moves have been made possible by the influence of SOU’s students. “I could not be more proud of our students in terms of future success,” President Bailey mentioned, “I think students’ voices are incredibly important… their perspectives and desires have a direct impact on legislative and philanthropic support. All of it is tied together and is really being driven so that we are of better service to students.”

With that, keep doing what you do students and faculty! We’re making a difference.

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