State officials OK utility’s community solar project

The Associated Press//November 8, 2016

State officials OK utility’s community solar project

The Associated Press//November 8, 2016

State officials have approved a utility company’s application to build a solar power project southeast of Boise funded by customers who buy subscriptions.

The Idaho Public Utilities Commission the week of Oct. 31 approved Idaho Power’s application for the 500-kilowatt solar project that would be the state’s first utility-owned solar power production facility.

The so-called community solar project that can power about 730 homes aims to attract customers who can’t install solar panels on their homes because they rent, live in communities with rules prohibiting solar panels, or have houses shaded by trees. Buying a subscription means they’re taking part in producing solar energy.

“We heard from a lot of customers who wanted to see an option like this,” said company spokesman Brad Bowlin.

The solar panels would cover an area about the size of two football fields. Most of the project’s $1.2 million construction cost would be paid by customers who take out subscriptions at $562 apiece, with completion of the project expected in June.

Idaho Power initially proposed a subscription cost of $740, with buyers getting a 3 cents per kilowatt credit.

But the commission said subscribers wouldn’t get back their investment, ultimately settling on the lower subscription fee and altering the credit so it could increase from 3 cents to 4.4 cents in 25 years.

“The record demonstrates that there is great interest and enthusiasm” for the program, the commission said in a statement.

Bowlin said the company sold about 20 subscriptions Nov. 4 despite not having done much marketing yet, and expects to eventually sell all of them. There are 1,093 subscriptions available for residential customers and another 470 for non-residential customers.

Bowlin said the number of subscriptions sold in the next 120 days will give the company a better understanding of the interest in the project.

“This is still a learning experience for us, too,” he said. “We have some assumptions and have done some research, but we really won’t know until we see those subscriptions rolling in.”

He said the company will evaluate how the project advances and whether or not it’s successful enough to consider building a second subscription-based solar project if the first one succeeds.

The utility has 516,000 customers in Idaho and eastern Oregon. Those who don’t want to participate will not face any charges for the solar project.

The amount of energy that would be generated by the solar project is a tiny fraction of the 3,200 megawatts the company is occasionally called on to supply on a hot summer day. Much of that is supplied by the company’s 17 hydroelectric projects on the Snake River and its tributaries, as well as coal and gas plants.