It may have been a cloudy day for a “solar walk,” but the future is bright for clean energy sources, according to the Oregon Student Public Interest Research Group (OSPIRG), a student organization passionate about sustaining the environment. 

“We’re trying to make solar as accessible as possible for our community members,” Lindsey Rocha, vice chair of Southern Oregon University’s chapter, said during Sunday’s walk. 

OSPIRG began the tour at SOU’s residential halls with a discussion led by SOU Sustainability and Recycling Coordinator Roxane Beigel-Coryell. 

Beigel-Coryell explained two different types of solar panels are currently used by university residence and dining halls: solar-photovoltaics and solar-thermal. Solar-photovoltaic panels are used to conduct electricity and solar-thermal panels are used to generate thermal energy to heat water. 

There are a little more than 1,000 solar panels in use at SOU at its main Ashland campus and at its Higher Education Center in Medford. These panels generate an estimated 300,000 kilowatts (kwh) of energy a year, 2 percent of total campus power usage, or about enough to power 30 average residential homes for a year. According to Beigel-Coryell, SOU also plans to install solar panels on new theater and athletic buildings. 

“The city of Ashland is one of the towns of Oregon that has the highest per capita of solar energy use,” said Beigel-Coryell. “It is important for us to start looking for more sustainable energy sources that we can use in the long term that aren’t requiring us to use fossil fuels, which are a limited resource and very determinantal to our environment.” 

The use of renewable resources isn’t only beneficial for the environment, it can also boost to the economy. According to Beigel-Coryell, there are solar panel installation companies that offer training programs. With the shift from fossil fuels to renewable resources comes a demand for trained professionals and an opportunity for new jobs. 

The tour continued past a few residential homes and the United Bicycle Institute that have used solar panels for many years. 

According to Adam Hanks, an energy management analyst for the city, when one homeowner decides to use solar energy, multiple homes around the first jump on the bandwagon. There are clusters of residential areas in Ashland that use solar energy which are examples, he said, of the “contagious effect of solar power.”

The tour stopped at the city’s maintenance division on East Main Street to discuss “solar pioneer II.” Behind the parking lot of the police department lies 363 solar panels. These panels are available for members of the community to invest in. If, for example, one rented their home or their home simply wasn’t compatible for solar panels, panels from the “solar pioneer II” are available for purchase. The energy gained from these panels are converted into electricity and used to offset the utility bill of the investor. 190 panels have been sold and the rest are used by the city. All of the panels were installed in 2007. These panels produce between 85,000 and 88,000 kwh annually. 

According to Hanks, there are a total of roughly 220 buildings, residential and commercial, that use solar energy in Ashland. 

The tour ended at Standing Stone Brewing Company with a discussion led by Scott Allen, general manager. 

Standing Stone’s energy use is designed to greatly reduce their carbon footprint. Apart from using solar energy for eight years, they also have a farm just one mile away from the restaurant, at which they raise all of their cattle and many other ingredients. 

According to Allen, 90 percent of their garbage is composted at the farm. “It’s a passion for protecting the earth and leaving it better than when we got here,” Allen said. 

OSPIRG is enthusiastic about giving the public information resources on solar power, but they also want to spread the word about other renewable energy resources. According to Rocha, OSPIRG helped pass a bill that states that Oregon will no longer get any of its energy from coal by 2030 and will get at least 50 percent of its energy from renewable resources by 2040. 

“We are the first state to have a transition bill to go coal-free,” said Rocha. “If any state is going to fully rely on renewable resources, this is definitely the state to do it. We have so much solar potential.” 

Some OSPIRG campaigns planned for the fall include “saving the bees,” “antibiotic-free meat” and “hunger and homelessness.” 

Email Tidings intern Caitlin Fowlkes at cfowlkes@dailytidings.com.