WILSONVILLE, Ore. - Drivers taking a break on I-5 near Portland could soon have their rest stop powered by the sun. Oregon broke ground Tuesday on a new solar project that officials are hailing as the largest of its kind in the nation.

This rest stop in Wilsonville is popular with travelers seeking a respite before plunging into Portland traffic. Soon a grassy meadow here will be home to nearly 7,000 solar panels. That's enough to power about 165 homes a year, according to Portland General Electric. The utility's CEO, Jim Piro, says the solar energy these panels soak up will be used to power more than just the rest area.

"During the daytime, if it generates more than what's being used at this rest stop, which I think it will be, it will just go into the grid to serve our customers," he says.

The so-called "solar highway" project will cost about $10 million to build. It's being paid for through a mix of private financing and state and federal tax credits.

The project is not being touted as a way to cut energy costs. PGE says the solar panels will help the utility reach its state-mandated goal of having 25 percent of its power from renewable sources by 2025.

On the Web:

ODOT's "solar highway" projects:


Copyright 2011 Northwest News Network

Read more on news.opb.org.