Idaho Power contests proposed central Idaho solar power projects

KEITH RIDLER, Associated Press

The Idaho Public Utilities Commission last week opened a case concerning Site Based Energy's solar power project near Bellevue and is taking public comments through Aug. 14.

BOISE, Idaho (AP) — Idaho Power is asking state officials to rule that 10 solar projects proposed for central Idaho are instead one big project and should fall under a different set of regulations more favorable to the energy company.

The Idaho Public Utilities Commission last week opened a case concerning Site Based Energy's project near Bellevue and is taking public comments through Aug. 14.

"These ten projects are all located at the same site, on the same contiguous property, and divided into ten sections," Idaho Power said in its request to the commission.

Site Based Energy officials said they are stand-alone projects with different owners but with common ownership of some connecting equipment to save money.

"The use of a shared location provides economies of scale for construction, purchasing of equipment, and similar design, but it doesn't make it one project," said Site Based Energy Project Manager John Reuter in an email to The Associated Press.

Each of the projects is listed as being able to produce 100 kilowatts. Projects that size receive a rate set by the commission and a 20-year contract. Projects larger than that must negotiate a rate based on Idaho Power's most recent Integrated Resource Plan. The contract length at the most would be five years.

"If the commission sides with Idaho Power, this will kill Site Based Energy's ten projects," Reuter said, noting longer contracts are needed to make capital investments.

For Idaho Power, longer contracts can be burdensome because they might not mesh with the company's Integrated Resource Plan that identifies sources of power, when power is needed and how power can be obtained at the cheapest rate.

"A primary focus is the contract length," Idaho Power spokesman Brad Bowlin said. "That's really the issue."

The solar setup proposed in central Idaho falls under the Public Utilities Regulatory Policies Act, or PURPA, created in 1978 to promote alternative resources.

In Idaho, a combination of federal regulations and tax incentives under the act, cheaper solar panels, plentiful sunshine in much of the state and a rate-calculating method developed by the commission itself has made solar power economically attractive. Not counting the central Idaho projects, the commission has approved about a dozen solar power projects in the last year.

Reuter said planning, engineering and site testing has been done for the solar projects in central Idaho but construction hasn't started.

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