A New Crop is Now Growing
by Cynthia Sewell
Idaho's first commercial solar farm has just been built south of Boise
Five other solar farms in Southwest Idaho are set to be completed this year
Each day the Earth tilts, the sun rises and morning commences. And every morning on a 360-acre stretch of land south of Boise, 174,800 solar panels begin to move with those first shafts of sunlight.
Throughout the day, the solar panels quietly rotate from east to west, following the sun and absorbing its energy to create 40 megawatts of electricity -- enough to power about 29,000 homes.
The Idaho Solar 1 project on South Cloverdale Road is putting a new crop on former Treasure Valley farmland: solar energy.
The project -- the first commercial solar farm to be built in Idaho -- will deliver electricity to Idaho Power for at least the next 20 years.
Arizona-based DEPCOM Power built the project, which is owned by Entropy Investment Management from Charlotte, N.C.
Construction began in December and was completed in April. The project will go online in August, said Entropy Managing Partner Lewis Reynolds. It features polysilicon photovoltaic panels installed on a single-axis tracking system.
Reynolds declined to say how much the project cost.
The Idaho Solar 1 project, formerly called Boise City Solar, has changed locations and owners three times since first announced by Boise Mayor Dave Bieter in 2010.
Initially slated to go on city-owned land near the airport, the project then moved to the city-owned Twenty Mile South Farm on South Cloverdale. Last year, it was moved again to private land purchased by the developer north of the city's site and closer to an Idaho Power transmission line.
Idaho Power has contracts with eight solar projects in Idaho, including Idaho Solar 1, with a combined total capacity of 240 megawatts, said spokesman Brad Bowlin.
Six of the projects are in Southwest Idaho -- two in Ada County, three in Elmore County and one in Owyhee County. Two are in Eastern Idaho's Power County. All are scheduled to be online by the end of 2016, Bowlin said.
The 360-acre, 40-megawatt Idaho Solar 1 project will be the first to go online, but it will not be the largest. Construction is now underway on the 600-acre, 80-megawatt Grand View PV Solar Two project in Elmore County.
After this year, the solar boom may slow a bit.
"Idaho Power does not need any additional energy resources at this time, so we are not actively pursuing new solar contracts," Bowlin said.
COMMUNITY SOLAR PROJECT
Meanwhile, Idaho Power wants to helps its customers who want to get on the solar bandwagon but cannot produce their own solar power because they are unable to install rooftop solar panels, or they live in apartments or condominiums.
Idaho Power submitted a proposal to the Idaho Public Utilities Commission on June 22 to launch a community solar pilot program. The utility would build a small, 500-kilowatt solar array on property it owns near its Boise Bench substation at Amity and Holcomb roads.
Interested customers could buy "subscriptions" entitling them to a portion of the project's electrical output. Residential and nonresidential customers could buy one or more $740 subscriptions for the 25-year life of the project. They would receive a monthly bill credit based on the energy costs being offset by the solar array, currently about 3 cents per kilowatt-hour for residential customers and between 2 and 3 cents for nonresidential ones.
Idaho Power estimates it will cost $1.16 million to build the project and $81,000 to connect it to Idaho Power's grid.
Subscribers would pay 85 percent of the cost, and Idaho Power's shareholders would pay the rest -- $175,000. The utility said its customers who don't subscribe would bear none of the cost, and it would not earn a profit.
Idaho Power hopes to begin enrollment in late summer or early fall and have the project running by summer 2017 if there is sufficient customer enrollment.
"This pilot program is intended to evaluate customer commitment," said Pete Pengilly, customer research and analysis leader for Idaho Power, in a news release. "It originated from customer interest in having a solar option provided by Idaho Power. Participation in the community solar pilot program is voluntary, and it gives participants the opportunity to use solar energy generated right here in Boise."
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