Letters from the West

Learn how you can buy into a solar power plant without a roof

The Boise Solar Project on Cloverdale Road on 550 acres at 40 megawatts of solar power is far larger than Idaho Power’s proposed community solar project.
The Boise Solar Project on Cloverdale Road on 550 acres at 40 megawatts of solar power is far larger than Idaho Power’s proposed community solar project.

The Idaho Public Utilities Commission gave its blessing to Idaho Power’s 500-kilowatt community solar project in southeast Boise.

The $1.16 million project on the southwest corner of Amity and Holcomb roads will allow up to 1,093 residential customers and 470 non-residential customers to buy one or more subscriptions -- one subscription is a 320-watt panel-- for the solar farm’s anticipated 25-year life. Completion of the project is anticipated by June 2017.

Subscriptions will be rewarded on a first-come, first-served basis until program capacity is reached at 350 kilowatts to residential customers and 150-kW for commercial customers.

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

Idaho Power originally proposed a one-time fee of $740 for each subscription. After negotiation, the company and parties agreed on $562, while also allowing customers to pay either at one time or in monthly installments of $26.31 over 24 months.

Eventually, the company and parties agreed on a solar energy credit that reflects Idaho Power’s recommended embedded cost of energy, but one that gradually increases as the retail energy rate increases. Idaho Power projects the credit could increase from about 3 cents a kilowatt-hour now to about 4.4 cents in 25 years. The credit is in the form of a reduction in kilowatt-hours billed customers based on the previous month’s solar generation.

The total monthly credits given over 12 months cannot exceed that subscriber’s energy use from the prior year.

The project allows Idaho Power customers who cannot install their own rooftop solar panels because they live in rental properties or multi-unit dwellings, to take advantage of solar power.

Idaho Power in the past has been rough on rooftop solar customers like many utilities who worry they allow these customers to get out of paying for the rest of the the company’s grid. But this pilot project could lead to future, perhaps larger, projects. Small-scale pilot programs, the commission said, “are valuable for learning what works and what does not.” Idaho Power said the pilot will assist the utility in learning the “complexities associated with offering community solar programs including: customer commitment, construction, contracting, interconnection, maintenance and billing.”

Idaho Power will retain ownership of the Renewable Energy Credits.

Rocky Barker: 208-377-6484, @RockyBarker

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