HOUSTON, Alaska (KTUU) – The Matanuska Electric Association hosted a groundbreaking ceremony Wednesday morning for the site of a new solar farm in Houston.
The project will cover 45 hectares and will be six times larger than the Willow Solar Farm. Gov. Mike Dunleavy stood alongside project leaders to talk about the potential benefits of renewable solar energy for the several dozen people in attendance.
“This is just the beginning of the tremendous, tremendous power we can generate in Alaska,” Dunleavy said.
The farm will be the second of its kind and will become the largest solar array in the Matanuska-Susitna region as well as the state. Located off Hawk Lane near Houston High School, the array will consist of more than 6,000 foundation piles and 14,400 solar panels.
The project is the result of a four-way partnership, with Independent Renewable Energy Producers leasing the land, the Matanuska Electric Association buying the wholesale electricity, and CleanCapital financing and owning the project.
MEA CEO Tony Izzo said the cost of purchasing power is lower than anything they produce themselves, helping to diversify their fuel supply portfolio and making them less dependent on natural gas.
“We plan to continue to do whatever we can to reduce our carbon footprint and increase the diversity of our fuel supply mix, which will lead to increased reliability and lower costs for our consumers,” Izzo said.
This particular project is not expected to lower the price of electricity for MEA customers, but it is competitive with MEA generation, which helps stabilize rates.
Renewable IPP is an Alaska-grown company founded in 2017 by a group of four engineers. CEO Jenn Miller said she and her three partners were working in the oil and gas industry when they realized solar had the potential to bring cheap power to Alaska. . The company built Willow Solar Farm as a pilot project before expanding in 2019.
“We’ve hired all local workers to build this solar farm, and we’re building that practice across the state,” Miller said. “We are diversifying our energy supply for Alaskans. Because we have an isolated grid, we are responsible for buying all that energy, and so by diversifying it, it expands our Cook Inlet gas supply and brings in less carbon energy.
According to Miller, the lifespan of a solar panel is about 40 years, if not more. The double-sided panels are also designed to use light reflected off the snow, which stores energy during the winter months.
“When we get reflective light in the winter, it will bounce off the snow and produce it on the back of the solar panel,” Miller said. “February, March is that super-reflective sun, and when the daylight starts to come back, you know the sun is providing good energy for about 10 months of the year.”
Construction is already underway at the site as crews continue to drive foundation piles into the ground. Miller hopes to have all the stakes up before the season ends, so the panels and wiring can be installed next year. The panels are expected to be released next summer.
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