Idaho's 1st big solar plant to be built soon
BOISE, Idaho (AP) — Idaho's first big solar electricity plant will likely soon begin construction, a rare bright spot for renewables in a state littered with canceled wind farms, regulatory uncertainty and low natural gas prices that have soured alternative power's financial appeal.
Solar panels await installation at a 180-acre field 60 miles east of Boise that Grandview Solar PV I has leased from the J.R. Simplot Co.
Mark Scher, the Albany, N.Y.-based energy developer behind the 10-megawatt endeavor, told The Associated Press that construction will begin within weeks and it will begin selling electricity to Idaho Power Co. in January.
Idaho Power, the state's biggest utility, now buys a tiny amount of solar electricity from customers who feed power from their panels back into the grid.
Scher's project breaks new ground.
"When it comes online, Grand View Solar I will be the largest solar project connected to Idaho Power's system," said utility spokesman Brad Bowlin.
Other alternative energy developers, particularly those planning wind farms on Idaho's gusty Snake River plain, have struggled, as the state Public Utilities Commission considers rule changes pushed by utilities, including Idaho Power, that make it tougher for them to secure financing. Utilities complain renewable projects are driving up customers' rates.
By contrast, Scher's solar development is advancing after benefiting from a sales agreement with Idaho Power in June 2010, when terms were more attractive. Federal tax incentives helped, too.
He bought the project in June 2011, after its founders, Robert Paul, of Desert Hot Springs, Calif., and Peter Richardson, a Boise-based energy lawyer, completed initial legwork.
Scher's progress notwithstanding, solar power's future in Idaho has faded considerably from the past years' optimism. Another developer, Interconnect Solar, had its 25-year sales agreement with Idaho Power canceled after failing to post security to ensure it would deliver power on time.