Letters from the West

Idaho Power asks regulators to approve community solar plant

The Boise Solar Project on Cloverdale Road on 550 acres is much larger than Idaho Power’s proposed community solar project.
The Boise Solar Project on Cloverdale Road on 550 acres is much larger than Idaho Power’s proposed community solar project.

Idaho Power Co. customers could subscribe to a 500-kilovolt community solar project that would be built in southeast Boise under a plan they asked the Idaho Public Utilities Commission to approve.

The project allows people who can't install solar panels on their own homes or live in apartments or condominiums to produce solar power. It's another sign that the cost of solar is dropping and its use for electricity generation is gaining support even where electricity is relatively cheap.

Under the proposal 1,093 residential customers and 470 non-residential customers could buy one or more $740 subscriptions for the 25-year life of the proposed project. One subscription would be like investing in one 320-watt solar panel.

Idaho Power would credit subscribers would based on their level of subscription and the how much solar energy the plant produces. A customer would get no more credit than their monthly bill with extra power going to future bills.

The the solar plant would be built by next June near its Boise Bench substation near Amity and Holcomb roads. Idaho Power estimates it will cost $1.16 million to build and $81,000 to connect to Idaho Power’s grid.

Subscribers would pay 85 percent of the cost and Idaho Power's shareholders would pay $175,000, about 15 percent of the construction cost. The utility said its customers who don't subscribe would bear none of the cost and it would not earn a rate of return.

The pilot project, Idaho Power told the commission in its filing, will help it learn about the “complexities associated with offering community solar programs including: customer commitment, construction, contracting, interconnection, maintenance and billing.”

In a separate filing the utility asked the commission to modify its green power program that allows customers t6o buy power from solar and wind plants across the Northwest.

Currently, about 1,700 customers participate as well as a 15 schools, under the utility’s Solar 4R Schools program. The changes would allow it to charge ratepayers to market the program and to bring it into line with national green energy standards and to make it more transparent.

Rocky Barker: 208-377-6484, @RockyBarker

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