The Idaho Public Utilities Commission quickly approved a request by Idaho Power to launch a pilot “community solar” project to allow Idaho Power customers to buy direct shares from a new solar power project and claim their share of that power as their own. “Community solar” allows utility customers to buy a “subscription” in a solar farm and then receive a bill credit for their share of the output from that solar project. It’s particularly attractive for utility customers who might not otherwise be good candidates to install their own solar power because they rent their homes, have too much shade over their roofs, face unreasonable homeowners association rules, or due to cost or other reasons.
Over the past several months, Idaho Power worked with the Snake River Alliance and other clean energy groups, as well as the Idaho PUC, to define a community solar pilot project that is most affordable for utility customers while still ensuring non-participants don’t shoulder unneeded costs from those customers choosing the clean energy route.
According to its PUC filing, Idaho Power plans to build a 500-kilowatt solar array and then sell 1,563 subscriptions at $562 per subscription to customers, who can pay the entire per-share cost up front or through payments spread over two years at $26.31 per month to reduce the one-time cost. Company shareholders will contribute another 15 percent toward the project’s cost. All customers with accounts in good standing in Idaho Power’s service area are eligible to participate. The project would be built at the intersection of Amity and Holcomb roads, adjacent to the company’s Boise Bench substation.
While this is Idaho’s first community solar project, similar solar projects have been developed by utilities across the country. Besides the Alliance, other parties working with Idaho Power in this case include the Sierra Club, Idaho Conservation League, the City of Boise, and Idaho Irrigation Pumpers Association.
“The record demonstrates that there is great interest and enthusiasm” for the program, the PUC said. “We appreciate the intervening parties’ willingness to engage in settlement negotiations to address the various concerns raised.”