With arms raised high holding a giant, $1.5 million check from Energy Trust of Oregon, Oregon Tech President Chris Maples beamed Friday.
“Woohoo!” he said.
Energy Trust of Oregon Executive Officer Margie Harris handed the check to Maples following a historic ceremony recognizing the university as the first in the nation to obtain its energy from a solar and geothermal plant. The funds were incentives that helped fund the university projects, energy that now powers a majority of the campus.
The ceremony was powered by accolades on the energy projects from state leaders in attendance.
About 250 to 275 people attended the ribbon cutting and celebration event which was only feet from the solar array, including Oregon’s First Lady Cylvia Hayes, U.S. Sens. Ron Wyden (D-Ore.), Jeff Merkley (D-Ore.) and state Sen. Doug Whitsett. State leaders addressed faculty, students, community members and local leaders about the significance of the first university powered by solar and geothermal energy.
Solar City, a Portland-based company installed 7,800 solar panels on nine acres of land near the campus in July of 2013. The 2.0 megawatt solar arrays were finished in October of 2013 and went online in December of 2013. The 1.75-megawatt geothermal plant, built by Johnson Controls, was officially completed this week.
Hayes, Wyden, Merkley and Whitsett lauded the accomplishments of energy-independent Oregon Tech (Gov. John Kitzhaber, who was originally scheduled to attend, was unable to be at the event). With golden scissors, state leaders, as well as Klamath Falls Mayor Todd Kellstrom, cut the ribbon to unveil the solar and geothermal projects.
“This is a big deal, this is really a historic day,” Hayes said. “I know of your international reputation for cutting-edge leadership. What’s happening here is just going to take that to a whole new level.”
Hayes has worked with John Lund and Toni Boyd from Oregon Tech’s Geo Heat Center for more than 10 years on clean energy-related projects, she told the Herald and News in a follow-up interview.
“This project really, I think, sets a new standard for universities and also highlights how much incredible innovation is taking place in rural Oregon,” Hayes said. “The ripple effects from this will go well beyond today.”
Wyden praised the energy project’s impact on the region, state and the nation.
“As Oregonians, clean energy is practically in our DNA,” Wyden said. “Nothing in my view epitomized that more than Oregon Tech. You’ve got here a solar, geothermal project that provides an incredible value, not just to Oregon Tech, and the students here, but also to the Basin and to the state. It creates jobs, reduces our carbon footprint and saves money. That is a trifecta, my friends, in which everybody wins.”
Merkley said others across the nation could learn from Oregon Tech’s example.
“We have to take on burning less fossil fuel and doing more of what this university is doing right now, which is developing new strategies and expanding those strategies in areas such as geothermal and solar,” Merkley said. “This is a contribution not just to the education of our students, but really to forging a path for us as a community, and a broader nation to take on one of the most significant problems that we’re facing — one that has direct reverberations here in our home state.”
Harris praised the project before giving Maples a check for $1.5 million.
“The renewable energy you produce here will meet all of your needs onsite,” Harris said. “It will spill over and benefit low-income resources in this community, and we are all so impressed with this commitment.
“And as your owl mascot would say, it’s because we give a hoot,” Harris added.