June 18, 2020

Electric cooperatives contract with Montana's largest solar project

An 1,100-acre solar project slated for Baker secured a contract Wednesday to sell power to Basin Electric Power Cooperative and its Montana members.

Cabin Creek Solar Project will be the largest of its kind in Montana. Under the purchase power agreement, it will supply power to the co-ops for 15 years. The life of the project is 35 years.

Cabin Creek developer Clénera Renewable Energy, of Boise, Idaho, describes the project as two 75-megawatt solar arrays, each spanning 550 acres. The location is within 10 miles of Baker to the northwest, said Jared McKee, Clénera director of business development.

“This is a project that will be in the ground for 35 years and will be increasing the tax base of the county and also providing employment,” McKee said.

Over 35 years, the solar project is expected to pay $8 million in property taxes to Fallon County, plus an additional $5 million to the state. Construction is expected to begin in 2022 or early 2023 and will create about 300 construction jobs, McKee said. After the solar project is complete, it will take five full-time workers to maintain it.

The Cabin Creek Solar Project will be the largest renewable energy project of any kind in Montana for Basin, which emphasized that the project, large enough to power 30,000 homes, will eliminate 265,000 tons of carbon dioxide per year from the cooperatives’ portfolio.

Cabin Creek isn’t Clénera’s only Montana project. Last year, the company announced it would build a 160-megawatt solar project north of Dillon. That 1,300-acre development, Apex Solar Project, would be Montana’s largest solar development, but the company has yet to come to terms on pricing with would-be buyer NorthWestern Energy. The goal is to bring Apex Solar on line by the end of 2021.

Clénera has other Montana projects in early development, McKee said. The company has 1.7 gigawatts of solar power in production, or construction in seven states, including Wyoming, where Sweetwater Solar became that state's first major solar array, at 700 acres, in 2018.