RICHFIELD — Some 16 miles northeast of Shoshone, farmland sprawls between houses, and sheds protect irrigation pumps along canals. Abandoned vehicles sit crumpled and rusted while cows graze in a field nearby.
Just beyond one of the ranch buildings, a power line ends abruptly. At its base, a chain-link fence protects the 72 south-facing panels soaking up the sun’s rays.
What are these solar panels doing out in the middle of Idaho’s desert? Here, at the end of the line, they’re helping to maintain voltage for 13 farm and ranching customers — a solution that’s the first of its kind in Idaho, and possibly anywhere.
“We’re able to provide voltage supply by generating energy locally,” said Patrick Perry, one of the electrical engineers for Idaho Power Co. who helped get the project in place. “In this situation, it works because we’re out of alternative solutions.”
The power line here runs 26 line miles from the nearest substation, north of Magic Reservoir. It’s unusually long for a “feeder line,” which typically serve only 10 to 20 line miles of customers, Idaho Power spokesman Dan Olmstead said.
Just like a garden hose, the longer a power line is, the less pressure (or voltage, in this case) is at the end, he said. That’s partly because of the resistance of the overhead line itself.
In this case, the older conductor, Perry said, has a relatively high resistance in it. As a result, voltage wasn’t staying up to the company’s quality standards.
If it gets below a certain level, it can have adverse effects — particularly during peak usage in the summer, when the irrigation pumps are running.
“It’s not as efficient for that pump to run on a lower voltage,” Olmstead said.
To deal with irregular voltage, Idaho Power normally installs voltage regulators along particularly long lines. These can bring the voltage up and down based on demand, Perry said. But in this case, there were already three regulators along the line — the maximum number the company could install without them counteracting each other.
The next option would have been to build an entirely new line with wire that has less resistance. But lava rock covering the ground makes drilling new poles a costly solution.
So instead, Idaho Power sought out a way it could generate the voltage needed for those remote customers.
“It’s a bit of an experimental thing,” Olmstead said. “But it makes a lot of sense to do it this way.”
The company had already been looking at local generation as a solution for this kind of situation, but hadn’t identified an area where it was needed and could be implemented. Phil Anderson, another electrical engineer for the company, had been watching the prices of solar panels drop.
Perry helped identify the site for the project, and the panels were installed in October 2016.
“This solar project cost much less than that reconductoring project,” he said.
That includes the cost to extend the line a short way over private property — to get the panels installed on less than an acre of land. The maintenance of the system is also not expected to be excessive.
Perry has been analyzing the system over the past year to see if it’s doing what it should.
“We’ve got some pretty definitive metrics that say it has increased the voltage out there to those 13 customers,” he said.
The 18-kilowatt project supplies enough power to maintain voltage, but the power usage from those customers still exceeds that production.
“We didn’t want a lot of backflow, we just wanted enough to solve the low voltage,” Perry said. “The name of the game isn’t to power the whole area.”
The local power generated by this photovoltaic system decreases the current that transports the energy, which raises the voltage, Perry said.
It’s a non-traditional solution that so far, seems to be working just like it should. Idaho Power is already looking at another potential site in the state where this might work.
“This is the first time it’s ever been done, to my knowledge,” Perry said. “It took a lot of convincing ourselves and management that this was something we needed to move forward with.”
TWIN FALLS — It was a common complaint among College of Southern Idaho students: Wireless Internet access wasn’t always reliable — or even existent in some places.
But now, that’s changing.
CSI is upgrading wireless infrastructure at its Twin Falls campus to include 185 access points — both indoor and outdoor. The college plans to wrap up the project by the end of 2017.
Students often complained about not having wireless access in outdoor public spaces such as gathering areas and parking lots. Plus, CSI’s old wireless system was outdated and the manufacturer is no longer supporting the equipment.
“Before, if you ever asked any students on campus what our wireless was like, they said ‘it was terrible. It sucks,’” said Bruce Nukaya, systems and network architecture director for CSI.
The $160,000 project includes two phases and started last year. The first one, which is complete, included installing new wireless access points inside campus buildings.
Now, CSI information technology employees are wrapping up the second phase: installing outdoor access points. It has about 25 left to go.
CSI student body president Lance Teske said it’s typically faster and more convenient for students to use their personal devices to do schoolwork than going to school computer labs.
It means students aren’t restricted on when and how they can do their homework, he said, and many rely on CSI’s wireless Internet if they don’t have access at home.
“It’s impossible to do any kind of classwork without having Internet access,” Teske said. “Most of the time, it’s much easier to use your own personal device.”
When student body leaders were doing skits during an event at the beginning of the school year, one was about how wireless Internet was terrible outdoors at CSI, he said. “It’s almost a joke on campus that you’re just not going to have connection in certain areas.”
Teske said he appreciates how CSI administrators are listening to students and working to fix the problem. “I know it’s a process.”
The wireless project kicked off in June 2016 with a trial run in three buildings on campus.
“Our wireless infrastructure was becoming outdated,” Nukaya said. “We went out and redesigned the whole thing from scratch.”
CSI is using Ruckus Wireless equipment, which Nukaya describes as state-of-the-art and the newest technology for high-speed Internet.
Manufacturer engineers completed site surveys at CSI to determine what kind of wireless coverage the college needed.
It’s important for CSI to support students and stay up-to-date with modern technology, Nukaya said. “In this day and age, everybody has to have wireless.”
JEROME — Two people died and six people were injured Saturday night in a crash in Jerome County.
Martina E. Rivera Sandoval, 44, of Jerome was killed in the crash at 150 West, 100 North. A child later died at a hospital.
According to the Idaho State Police, Shentasha L. Bybee, 20, of Rexburg, was driving a BMW north on 150 West when she failed to yield for a stop sign, colliding with a vehicle driven by Luis V. Ortiz Vega, 48, of Jerome, who was driving a Dodge minivan.
Bybee was taken by ambulance to St. Luke’s Jerome Medical Center. Bybee’s passengers, Michael J. Wornell, 29, of Twin Falls, and Cole A. Hatcher, 23, of Jerome, were flown via to Saint Alphonsus Regional Medical Center in Boise.
Vega and two children were also flown to Saint Alphonsus Regional Medical Center in Boise. One child was taken to St. Luke’s in Jerome. The condition of those injured was not available Sunday night.
The intersection was blocked for about 5 1/2 hours.
ISP is investigating. Jerome Police Department, Jerome County Sheriff’s Office, Jerome County Rural Fire Department, Magic Valley Paramedics, Life Flight Network and Air Saint Luke’s assisted.
TWIN FALLS — The developer of the Canyon Village subdivision on the corner of Pole Line and Eastland roads wants to remove architectural restrictions the city put on his residential and professional properties.
Kent Taylor, a partner with Northeast Developments, says the restrictions don’t make a lot of sense for the development now that it’s been developed.
A house constructed on the north of Cheney Drive had a garage facing Cheney Drive, which is prohibited in the agreement. Taylor, however, noted there is fencing obscuring it from Cheney Drive, and the entrance to the home is not along that street.
“It’s kind of a moot point, and it was never intended to restrict the development, as it was developed,” he said.
The house was also built with materials not strictly permitted in the agreement, but Taylor doesn’t see that as an issue.
The Planning and Zoning Commission recommends the City Council remove the restrictions on residential and professional units on the property, but keep the restrictions on the townhouses planned for the development.
Canyon Village has 21 platted residential lots — 16 of which have been sold, Taylor said. Two of the 10 professional lots are under construction for financial and medical businesses. The townhomes, just south of the bishop’s storehouse, and a commercial property on the corner could be under construction next year, Taylor said.
The City Council will have a public hearing at its regular meeting, 5 p.m. Monday in the City Council Chambers at 305 Third Ave. E. Prior to the meeting, the Council will convene at the Chambers at 3:30 p.m. to go on a tour of the Wills Booster Station.
Also during the regular meeting, the Council will:
Hear a proclamation declaring Nov. 25 as Small Business Saturday in Twin Falls.
Hear a proclamation declaring November as “No-Shave November” in Twin Falls.
Meet the Youth Council executive board.
Present value awards to city employees.
Hear an update on the Main Avenue reconstruction project.
Adjourn into executive session for the purposes of acquiring an interest in real property which is not owned by a public agency.