TWIN FALLS — Rogerson sits in the middle of sagebrush and pale-gold grassland. Cows and horses graze here and there in the high desert, a few circles of green land within sight of the town.
But in a couple of years, Rogerson may be next to Idaho’s largest solar farm, a massive 120 megawatt project. Soon the unincorporated town, less than 20 miles north of Jackpot, Nevada, could look out onto 300,000 black panels resting atop 1,000 acres of land along U.S. Highway 93.
After years of planning and permitting, Alternative Energy Development’s $300 million project is getting close to breaking ground.
“Finally we’re launching,” Alternative Power Development Managing Partner Robert Paul said at a Twin Falls Planning and Zoning Commission meeting Oct. 10.
Pre-construction activities have already begun, include geotech work. The solar farm will create about 500 jobs during construction, and will require about 10 full-time maintenance workers when complete.
“The bulk of the work of those 500 people will be local people,” Paul said, adding that the construction phase will take roughly a year.
The massive renewable energy project will pass the 80 megawatt Grand View solar farm in Owyhee County as Idaho’s largest.
Alternative Power Development’s solar farm will help provide Idaho Power with electricity as the utility works to shift away from coal-fired power plants and aims to provide 100% clean energy by 2045.
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Idaho Power will stop purchasing electricity from Nevada’s North Valmy coal-fired power plant west of Elko in two stages beginning at the end of this year and wrapping up before 2026. Alternative Power Development’s solar farm will help pick up some of that slack.
Idaho Power Communications Specialist Sven Berg said that the utility has to diversify its energy portfolio and include a variety of clean energy sources in order to get off of coal.
“We expect to invest in additional clean resources,” Berg said. “That’s probably going to include a lot of wind and solar. We likely will invest in technologies that don’t even exist right now.”
The power purchase agreement between Idaho Power and Alternative Power Development will last 20 years. Idaho Power will initially buy the electricity for $21.75 per megawatt-hour. That will make the solar farm Idaho Power’s cheapest electricity source, and it’s also one of the most inexpensive electricity costs in the country.
Per the power purchase agreement, Idaho Power may eventually purchase the solar farm. The farm could also expand to 220 megawatts and that expansion would occur on a contiguous parcel of land to the west. The power purchase agreement is pending approval from the Idaho Public Utilities Commission, Berg said.
Alternative Power Development’s project faced a small snag. One parcel of land needed for the project has split ownership — the J.R. Simplot Company has the surface rights, while the Bureau of Land Management owns the subsurface mineral rights.
It’s unlikely that there’s anything more valuable than gravel under that land, but because of the split ownership, Alternative Power Development decided to move to a site a bit to the west. That new land use required a conditional use permit, which the Twin Falls County Planning and Zoning Commission approved unanimously Thursday.
Berg said that projects like the 120 megawatt solar farm help Idaho Power achieve its 100% clean energy goal, while also benefiting customers.
“We really think of it as a landmark deal,” he said. “We know of very few utilities-scale contracts that will deliver energy to customers for this price, or even close to it.”