Teaching by example: OMSI goes solar

Teaching by example: OMSI goes solar

solar on roof

Photo courtesy of OMSI

The site of one of Portland’s oldest power plants is now producing renewable energy. 

In the center of the Oregon Museum of Science and Industry (OMSI) sits an old generator, a hulking reminder that from 1929 to 1975 the location was originally home to Station L, a wood-burning, steam-powered Portland General Electric plant. Now electricity is once again being generated at the site, but this time it’s clean energy from 500 rooftop solar panels.  

It’s not surprising that a museum devoted to science and technology is committed to sustainability and renewable power. A decade ago, Energy Trust incentives helped OMSI invest in energy-efficiency upgrades. But the museum couldn’t install solar until it dealt with a 520-ton problem overhead.  

River rock—tons of it—served as ballast holding the building’s roofing in place. When it came time to replace the 30-year-old roof, a new, lighter-weight roofing system freed up load capacity, providing the opportunity to add solar. 

“It’s certainly important to us to make energy conservation and renewable methods part of the way we do business,” said Clair Friskey, facilities project manager, OMSI. “Part of our mission is to be a responsible steward of the environment. We can’t be a science museum without addressing climate change and investing in renewable energy.” 

The solar project came online in January 2022 and will produce an estimated 238,865 kilowatt-hours of electricity annually, covering about 10% of OMSI’s yearly usage. The solar output also erases 130 tons of carbon dioxide from OMSI’s carbon footprint, which is equivalent to removing 28 cars from the road annually.  

“This reduction helps OMSI on its journey toward the goal of net zero carbon emissions,” said Friskey.

The solar array was designed and installed by Imagine Energy, an Energy Trust trade ally, who has teamed up with the local nonprofit organization Leaders Become Legends to help encourage more equity in the solar field.  

Energy Trust coordinated with PGE to help make the 200-kilowatt renewable power project possible for the nonprofit museum. Energy Trust provided early guidance and $35,000 in incentives, including a solar development assistance incentive that helped cover the upfront costs of a system design and positioned OMSI to apply for grant funding. 

The PGE Renewable Development Fund—supported by PGE Green FutureSM renewable energy customers—awarded OMSI a nearly $286,000 grant. The project drew support from PGE because it adds more local renewable energy and provides educational benefits for environmental justice communities. The educational components include new renewable energy classes and hands-on activities.  

OMSI is also in the beginning phases of multi-year project to rework their Natural Sciences Hall, creating a place for communities across the Pacific Northwest to share their place-based knowledge, challenges around climate change and solutions to inspire others to climate action.  

“It’s important to OMSI to share educational exhibits and activities that inspire kids’ curiosity about renewable energy,” said Friskey.

Read the OMSI solar case study for more details. To learn about adding solar to your building, be sure to check out our incentives and resources or call us at 1.877.777.4018.