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Bieter unveils plans for $45M solar project near airport

Boise Mayor Dave Bieter and Boise Metro Chamber of Commerce Chairman David Terrell welcome Carlo Hayden, a second grader at Riverstone International School, who led the Pledge of Allegiance at the mayor’s State of the City address June 2.

Boise Mayor Dave Bieter and Boise Metro Chamber of Commerce Chairman David Terrell welcome Carlo Hayden, a second grader at Riverstone International School, who led the Pledge of Allegiance at the mayor’s State of the City address June 2. Photo by Hicken/IBR

Boise Mayor Dave Bieter says the city has entered into lease negotiations with Boise-based Sunergy World to build a $45 million, 10-megawatt solar power generating facility on the site of the former city dump west of the airport.

The mayor unveiled details of the project, which would feature technology from a new Micron Technology joint venture, during his 2010 State of the City Address at the Boise Centre June 2.

He said the new facility could put Boise in the alternative energy production game, noting that a German solar panel manufacturer recently told local officials that it had decided to open a new plant in Colorado rather than Idaho because “Colorado is known as a green state, but Idaho is not.”

Sunergy, acquired by Mark van Gulik in February 2010, plans to install modules built by Transform Solar, a joint venture between Micron Technology and Australian firm Origin Energy, on the 40-acre site. It would also use ground mount arrays built locally by Joseph, Ore.-based Sun Storage.

The landfill site was most recently used to store construction debris from the newly expanded airport, but the city says it is ideal for this kind of redevelopment.

The project would also include a separate phase that would involve installation of solar parking structures in the airport parking lot near Orchard Street that could generate 500 kilowatts of energy. The parking structures would also include Transform Solar modules.

Sunergy was launched about a year-and-a-half ago by officials at construction firm Petra Inc., though the company is completely independent. Van Gulik, who has worked in Idaho’s construction industry for about 25 years, bought out the owners.

Van Gulik, who has also worked for Boise-based Kreizenbeck Constructors and served as director of residential construction at Tamarack Resort, said some hurdles remain, including completion of financing, lease negotiations with the city, a power purchase agreement with Idaho Power and approval from the Federal Aviation Administration. But, he said, “I’m going to make this happen.”

The project is modeled after a similar facility at the San Jose International Airport, and FAA approval shouldn’t be a problem, he said. The solar infrastructure is non-reflective and won’t interfere with pilots’ line of sight, which would be the FAA’s primary concern, he said.

Van Gulik said he’s still in negotiations over financing, and he declined to reveal any details. He said possible opportunities include tax equity investment, private bond financing and venture capital money. He anticipates taking advantage of one of two federal tax incentives: one, which expires this year, offers a grant up to 30 percent of the cost of a project, and the other provides a 30 percent tax credit that is received over a number of years.

“At this point in the game, I don’t see any roadblocks that would stop the project,” he said. “We’ve got three of four different scenarios, and we are talking with three or four private lenders. We have been engaged in negotiations for quite some time on this project.”

Van Gulik emphasized that no local government money would be used for the project.

A power purchase agreement with Idaho Power would mean local sale of the power produced and an interconnection to the existing grid.

The utility declined to comment specifically on the project because it is still in preliminary stages, though the company said in a statement that it supports renewable energy generation and general economic development in its service area.

“We are continuing diligent planning for the future energy needs of our customers, which includes maintaining a balanced portfolio of generation resources,” the statement said. “As with all opportunities, solar resources must be evaluated against other available options on all fronts-including who will pay for the power generated-as part of deciding what’s best for our company, customers and shareowners.”

Sunergy estimates that the project would preserve 20 local manufacturing jobs and create 20 new construction jobs. Van Gulik said construction could begin by the end of the year with completion anticipated by late 2011 or early 2012.

Architectural, civil and electrical design will be led by CSHQA. Petra Inc. will head construction.

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