Boise solar project changes location, again

Plans are in the works to transform an alfalfa field between Boise and Kuna into a solar panel array that would generate 40 megawatts of electricity.

Six large-scale solar projects ranging from 20 megawatts to 80 megawatts are planned for Ada, Elmore and Owyhee counties, but none are under construction.

“It is a fantastic project,” said Samir Verstyn with Origis Energy USA Inc. of Miami, which is developing the project. “It perfectly aligns with diversifying the energy mix of this country and within the state as well.”

Is this project new?

While news of the project came as a shock to neighbors — some learned about it on Aug. 1, just 10 days before a Kuna public hearing — the project itself has been in the works for five years, but at different locations.

In his 2010 state of the city address, Boise Mayor Dave Bieter announced plans to lease city-owned land near the airport for a 10-megawatt solar plant.

About six months later, after realizing approval from the Federal Aviation Administration would be hard if not impossible, the city announced plans to move the project, now expanded to 20 megawatts, to the city-owned Twenty Mile South Farm near the intersection of South Cloverdale and Sand Creek roads.

Then what happened?

The project stalled for the next three years while the energy developer, Boise City Solar LLC, waited to secure a contract with Idaho Power. The company got that contract in July 2014 and that month the Boise City Council approved a 20-year lease with Boise City Solar for a 40-megawatt plant on 360 acres at the city farm. Under the agreement, the city would receive about $200,000 annually — $54,000 in lease payments and about $143,000 from a 2.75 percent franchise fee on project’s revenue. In November, the city amended the lease so it could be extended an additional 15 years.

Moving to Kuna

Last month the project took a new tack when Boise City Solar’s new owner, Origis, submitted applications to Ada County and Kuna to build a 582-acre solar facility on private property at the southeast corner of the Cloverdale and Barker roads intersection.

According to Boise Public Works, the plans for a solar plant on the city’s farm were terminated due to “insurmountable” issues connecting to transmission lines. The new location, about three miles north of the city’s property, is closer to transmission lines.

The developer had to submit two separate applications because the project spans two jurisdictions — 220 acres is within Kuna city limits and 362 acres is in unincorporated Ada County.

What’s next?

The Kuna Planning and Zoning Commission held its public hearing Tuesday night. The commission is scheduled to make a decision Aug. 25. The Board of Ada County Commissioners will hold a public hearing 6 p.m. Sept. 9.

According to the applications, about 388 of the 582 acres will be covered in photovoltaic solar panels. Construction will take seven to eight months, generate about 300 construction jobs and, if all goes as planned, be operating in 2016. Once completed, the project will have about five full-time equivalent employees.

How much energy?

The large tract of solar panels will rotate from east to west following the sun and absorbing its energy to create 40 megawatts of electricity. A megawatt of solar power can typically generate enough power for 164 homes, depending on average amount of sunshine, wind, temperature and electricity consumption, according to the Solar Energies Industry Association. The other large-scale solar projects planned for Southwest Idaho range from 20 megawatts to 80 megawatts. One of the region’s largest power plants, Idaho Power’s 300-megawatt natural-gas-fired Langley Gulch plant near New Plymouth, can power nearly 700 homes per megawatt because its fuel source is consistent and efficient.

Solar energy is called clean energy because it comes from a renewable resource and creates little to no pollution or emissions.

“The facility is nearly silent once in operation and the panels are designed to absorb light and not reflect it, so impacts to the neighboring area will be minimal. Visual impacts will be further reduced with fencing, landscaping and or berms,” according to the application.

Neighbors fear impact won’t be minimal

The proposed solar farm is adjacent to Wednesday subdivision, with nearly a dozen homes on 10- to 12-acre lots.

The city of Kuna has received letters from nearly every homeowner, all opposed to the project.

“Our home sits just to the west on a small hill so we will have a beautiful view of acres and acres of solar panels,” wrote Craig and Katie Wheeler, who recently moved to their home.

Did neighbors know?

Some neighbors said they were aware of plans for the plant down the road at Boise’s Twenty Mile South farm and were surprised to receive a letter on Aug. 1 about the city public hearing on Aug. 11 on the plan put the plant next to their subdivision.

“We have been following the news of the major solar generating facility to be built at the Boise City Farm located … away from the any subdivisions or residences,” wrote Curtis and Sherrie Derr, who said they were “shocked” to learn it was proposed next to their subdivision.

“We are not opposed to solar power, but locating a massive solar factory such as that proposed, next to a subdivision with nice homes and families is not place for this type of development.”