Public testimony to continue into July for Canyon County border solar farm proposal after hours of opposition –

5 minutes, 34 seconds Read

Four hours wasn’t enough time for a public hearing on a more than 2,000-acre solar farm.

On Wednesday, the Ada County Commissioners had a packed house at the courthouse for a public hearing on a conditional use permit and variance application for a 2,385-acre solar farm straddling Ada and Canyon counties east of Melba. The project is proposed by Savion, a subsidiary of fossil fuel company Shell and would include 1,400 acres on the Ada County side of the border.

Ada County previously approved another Savion solar project on 4,300 acres south of the Boise airport.

The project sparked fierce testimony in opposition to the project from nearby residents over concerns it would replace a currently operating dairy and impact their views of the rolling hills nearby. Residents also questioned the company’s hopes to plant crops in the rows between the panels, citing the need for irrigation to grow crops in the Treasure Valley’s high desert climate.

But, the largest land owner in the project and the company say they have a right to develop the farm on their private property and it’s location near a power substation makes it ideal to get power inexpensively to Idaho’s grid.

“Idaho Power has established a clear need for power generation in their long-term plans and they’re obligated to do so as inexpensively as possible,” Savion Director of Development Mitchell Taylor said.

Because the testimony was not finished by 10 p.m., the Ada County Commissioners opted to pick up the hearing again at its July 10 meeting. The project would also need approval from the Canyon County Commissioners in order to go forward.

What is the company proposing?

If approved, the company aims to start construction next year and be ready to produce energy by the summer of 2026.

The construction process would take up to a year and a half and is estimated to bring in $750,000 a year in tax revenue to Ada County. It would power roughly 45,000 homes, which is just shy of half of the City of Nampa. Taylor said Idaho Power is currently in discussions to buy the power from the site, which would go directly to the Bowmont substation, instead of requiring the construction of costly transmission lines to move the power from the solar farm to the grid.

A map of the proposed 2,385 acre solar farm on the border of Canyon and Ada counties. Via Savion

Of the 2,385 acres of the property, only up to 1,800 would be needed for the solar panels. Setbacks from the property lines would be several hundred feet.

Savion says it hopes to use this property to grow crops between the rows of solar panels, but this is still in the experimental phase. The company plans to initially start growing a mix of local grasses and flowering plants to support pollinators, like bees and butterflies, beneath the panels starting two years after the farm is built. The company would then add sheep to graze the property after the roots grow strong enough to grow back from the animals eating the plants.

The combination of sheep grazing and pollinators growing beneath the panels is typically what the company does nationwide, but Taylor said Savion would like to pilot crop growth on the site. But, this is challenging because in Idaho the site would require irrigation to water the plants. Savion is currently talking with the University of Idaho and other researchers on how this could be possible, but for now, it’s still in the development phase and isn’t guaranteed.

The project is made up of three different current landowners: Savion, the Dunlop family and the Beus family. The Dunlop parcel currently has a dairy on it and Taylor said the company is negotiating with the Vander Schaff family, who leases it, to keep it in operation.

“We are in discussions to preserve operations with the tenant and if we reach an agreement great, if not there will be a net benefit for other dairies,” Taylor said.

Ted Vander Schaff spoke to the commissioners during the public comment period and acknowledged that while the owner has the right to sell the property, he’s disappointed he wasn’t able to make a competitive enough offer to buy it himself.

“My landlords have a right to sell their property if they want to, but I will also say that…I felt like I was bidding against the solar company for the last four years,” he said. “It’s been incredibly difficult.”

Neighbors call for project to be denied

No nearby residents spoke in favor of the project, except for the landowners involved in its possible redevelopment.

Residents took the mic late into the night to express their disapproval with the project, whether that is to question the planned agricultural practices on the site and the necessity of losing farmland or to express frustration about the impacts on their scenic views. There were also concerns from residents that the property would be able to support growing grass and sheep grazing without the current irrigation from pivots if the experimental plans from Savion to water the site between the rows don’t work.

“We are quickly losing our ag ground in the valley closer to the river through Ada County…and the more we take out of agriculture the less food we will have,” Jeff Glen said. “Today it won’t bother us, tomorrow it won’t bother us, it will be shortly down the road it will.”

Greg Matson owns between 12 and 13 acres of property near the project. Right now, he isn’t farming the land, but is considering starting to raise beef cattle at some point in the future and he said this project would impact property values because it would push people like him away from purchasing in the area.

“There may be data that says our property values that would not be impacted or it wouldn’t impact agricultural production, but I don’t think anybody really believes that,” Matson said. “I believe my property value will be impacted. I don’t believe I would have bought and built my home there had I been in the middle of 2-3 thousand acres of solar panels.”

Steve Beus, the land owner of 1,200 acres of the project, also spoke during the public hearing and encouraged the project to be approved. He said roughly a third of the land isn’t currently irrigated at all due to lack of water and the rocks in the ground.

“We’ve worked hard, paid our dues and I think we’ve earned the right to exercise our rights as property owners to use our property within the law,” he said.

This post was originally published on 3rd party site mentioned in the title of this site

Similar Posts