Project leaders break ground on state’s largest solar farm

The 45-acre farm will be the second of it’s kind in the Mat-Su
The project will occupy 45 acres of land and will be six times larger than the Willow Solar Farm.
Published: Sep. 14, 2022 at 6:14 PM AKDT
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HOUSTON, Alaska (KTUU) - Matanuska Electric Association hosted a groundbreaking ceremony at the site of a new solar farm in Houston on Wednesday morning.

The project will occupy 45 acres of land and will be six times larger than the Willow Solar Farm. Gov. Mike Dunleavy stood alongside leaders of the project and spoke about the potential benefits of renewable solar energy to the few dozen individuals in attendance.

“This is just the beginning of tremendous, tremendous amounts of power we can produce here in Alaska,” Dunleavy said.

The farm will be the second of its kind and becomes the largest solar grid in the Matanuska-Susitna Borough, as well as the state. Located off Hawk Lane near Houston High School, the grid will consist of over 6,000 foundation piles and 14,400 solar panels.

The project is the result of a four-way partnership, with the borough leasing the land, Renewable Independent Power Producers building and maintaining the grid, Matanuska Electric Association purchasing the wholesale power, and CleanCapital funding and owning the project.

CEO of MEA Tony Izzo said the cost to purchase the power is lower than anything they generate themselves and helps diversify their fuel supply portfolio, making them less reliant on natural gas.

“We plan to continue in any way we can to reduce our carbon footprint, and to increase the diversity of our fuel supply mix that will result in increased reliability and lower cost to our consumers,” Izzo said

This particular project is not expected to lower the price of electricity for MEA customers, but it is cost-competitive with MEA generation which helps stabilize rates.

Renewable IPP is an Alaskan-grown company started by a group of four engineers in 2017. CEO Jenn Miller said she and her three partners worked in the oil and gas industry when they realized the potential solar power had in delivering low-cost energy to Alaskans. The company built the Willow Solar Farm as a pilot project before expanding it in 2019.

“We’ve hired all local employees to build this solar farm, and we’re building that expertise here in the state,” Miller said. “We are diversifying our energy supply for Alaskans. Because we have an isolated grid we are responsible for sourcing all that energy, and so by diversifying it, it extends out our Cook Inlet gas supply and bringing in lower carbon energy.”

According to Miller, the useful life of a solar panel is close to 40 years, if not more. The bifacial panels are also designed to harness the reflective light off the snow, gathering energy during the winter months.

“When we get that reflective light in the wintertime it’s going to bounce off the snow and produce on the backside of the solar panel,” Miller said. “February, March is that super reflective sun, and as the daylight starts coming back, you know, I would say that solar provides good energy about 10 months of the year.”

Development is already underway at the site as crews continue to drive foundation piles into the ground. Miller hopes all piles will be in before the season ends so panels and wiring can be installed next year. The panels are expected to go live sometime next summer.