Assembly members participate during a meeting of the Kenai Peninsula Borough Assembly on Tuesday, June 21, 2022, in Soldotna, Alaska. (Ashlyn O’Hara/Peninsula Clarion)

Assembly members participate during a meeting of the Kenai Peninsula Borough Assembly on Tuesday, June 21, 2022, in Soldotna, Alaska. (Ashlyn O’Hara/Peninsula Clarion)

Another renewable energy company seeks to set up peninsula solar farm

Utopian Power wants to build a two-megawatt solar farm on a 40-acre chunk of land owned by the borough

The opportunity to harvest solar power on the Kenai Peninsula continues to draw interest from renewable energy companies outside the Kenai Peninsula Borough.

Utopian Power, a company with a stated mission of accelerating renewable energy adoption, presented their proposal for a solar farm to the Kenai Peninsula Borough Assembly last week. Utopian Power President Forrest Cohn described the company as one that works to develop clean energy.

Utopian Power has its eyes on a 40-acre chunk of land owned by the borough for its next project: a two-megawatt solar farm. The parcel, located in Sterling off Swanson River Road, is a former landfill on which the company wants to develop a renewable, local energy generator. Among the parcel’s attributes, the company says, are its sun exposure and proximity to a substation.

A large chunk of the projects in the company’s solar portfolio are concentrated in Michigan, however, the company partnered with Cook Inletkeeper for the “Solarize the Kenai” campaign that sought to make solar power more accessible to peninsula residents. Among Utopian Power’s solar projects are rooftop panels that power campground sites in Michigan’s Holland State Park and fundraised panels at Pellston Public School, according to Cohn’s presentation.

Now, the company is looking to expand its solar efforts to the Kenai Peninsula. If completed, the project site would accommodate a two-megawatt solar farm facility. The system would be ballasted to minimize how much of the equipment goes into the ground and to protect landfill liners, Cohn’s presentation says.

In pitching the project to the borough, Utopian Power has emphasized the revenue that would be generated from a decommissioned waste site, the additional security that comes with the fencing around the facility and the diversification of the borough’s energy sources. The project also aligns with HEA’s established goal of getting to 50% renewable energy generation by 2025 and the company is working with HEA to understand how their systems could interconnect, Cohn’s presentation says.

Kenai Peninsula Borough Land Management Agent Aaron Hughes echoed those pros in a May 26 memo to assembly members. Entering into a lease with the company, Hughes wrote, would offer a “productive use” for the land and new security and oversight of the grounds on top of bringing in more money for the borough.

The Kenai Peninsula Borough Planning Commission recommended approval of the lease at its June 13 meeting.

Under the lease as approved by assembly members last week, Utopian Power would pay a $3,500 annual fee to the borough as well as an annual base rent payment of $250 per acre for a total annual lease of $10,000. The agreement also says the borough would get 12% of the royalties from the facility’s annual gross revenue from the sale of power.

Assembly member Tyson Cox, who represents Soldotna, asked that assembly members vote to postpone the lease agreement so that more information about the financial impacts of the project could be gathered. As approved by the assembly, the lease terms include an initial 25-year term with a fixed rental amount and opportunities for two consecutive 10-year extensions.

“I don’t think there’s a whole lot of people contacting the borough about ways for our old dump sites to make us money,” said assembly member Richard Derkevorkian, who represents Kenai. “They are usually just sitting there costing us money.”

The Utopian Power lease comes about a month and a half after the assembly approved a new kind of borough tax exemption for independent power producers. The legislation passed by the assembly in May defines independent power producers as companies that own and operate a power generation facility larger than two megawatts and that sell electricity to a public utility regulated by the Regulatory Commission of Alaska.

The assembly’s May vote came after months of deliberation and presentations by Renewable IPP, a company that develops, constructs and operates utility-scale solar farms. Renewable IPP CEO Jenn Miller first pitched a 60,000-panel solar farm to the assembly last year and requested property tax exemptions from the borough.

More information about Utopian Power can be found on the company’s website at utopianpower.com.

Reach reporter Ashlyn O’Hara at ashlyn.ohara@peninsulaclarion.com.

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