$2 million, 50-acre solar project proposed in central Idaho; company hopes to lease state land

IndustriesAssociated Press

An alternative energy company has applied for a 50-year state lease to build a $2 million, 50-acre solar project in central Idaho.

Ketchum-based Sagebrush Solar wants to install about 3,600 solar panels on 6 acres in Ohio Gulch north of Hailey. The company says the project would produce about 1.1 megawatts of electricity, enough to power about 160 homes.

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Idaho Department of Lands spokeswoman Emily Callihan said the department is interested in working with Sagebrush Solar.

"We will conduct due diligence on the proposal and analyze market conditions in order to negotiate the terms of the lease along with rental structure and rates," Callihan told the Idaho Mountain Express (http://bit.ly/1vnEgNr ) in a story published Friday.

Sagebrush Solar owner Billy Mann said his company has completed 60 smaller solar projects in the Wood River Valley. The proposed project would take advantage of decreasing solar energy production costs, he said.

"This isn't just about saving the planet anymore," Mann said. "It's about saving money."

If approved, the project would be the first of its kind on state endowment lands in Idaho.

State law requires that the endowment lands be managed to secure the largest long-term financial return possible, with the money earned going toward Idaho's schools, hospitals and correctional facilities.

Mann said his company also would need to secure a 25-year power purchase agreement with Idaho Power before it goes into operation. The Public Utilities Regulatory Policies Act requires power companies to buy electricity at a state commission-approved rate from qualifying small power production facilities.

Idaho Power recently signed contracts with two Idaho solar power developers: a 40-megawatt plant near Boise and an 80-megawatt plant near Mountain Home. Those projects are on private property.

Mann has proposed funding his project by selling more than 3,600 shares in amounts equal to the cost of individual solar panels, which run about $560 each. The community-owned approach means the system can be installed at a cost of about $2 a watt, instead of the $6-per-watt cost for installing the panels individually on homes, Mann said.

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Information from: Idaho Mountain Express, http://www.mtexpress.com