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Renewable Energy

Alaska Takes First Steps In Building Its Largest Solar Farm

CleanCapital

It should come as no surprise that the biggest solar farms in the U.S. are in parts of the country where the sun shines the longest and the brightest. Of the five largest solar farms ranked by Construction Review Online, three are in California, one is in Arizona, and one is in Nevada. But other states are getting in on the act as well.

Last year, construction began on a solar farm in Indiana called Massive Solar, which will be the biggest in the U.S. once it is completed, covering 13,000 acres and producing enough electricity to power a quarter-million homes. 

Even Alaska, which ranks as one of the states with the least amount of sunlight, recently started building its biggest solar panel farm in Houston, AK, not far from Anchorage. Construction on the site began in August, with completion expected during the summer of 2023.

Photo Courtesy CleanCapital

According to an Aug. 16 press release, the project is expected to create 30 to 40 construction jobs and 15 to 20 part-time maintenance jobs.

When fully operational, the 8.5-megawatt solar array will supply renewable energy to the local utility, Matanuska Electric Association (MEA), and power about 1,400 homes annually, making it the biggest solar asset ever built in Alaska. 

CleanCapital, a New York-based investment platform, will provide financing for the project’s construction and serve as the site’s long-term owner-operator. It recently took a minority ownership stake in Renewable IPP, an Alaska renewable energy company founded by former employees of BP. In 2019, it developed Alaska’s current largest solar farm, located northwest of Houston in Willow, AK.

CleanCapital’s investment will also fund Renewable IPP’s operations to push the development of its future Alaska pipeline forward. The Houston, AK, project adds to the more than 200 solar projects CleanCapital already owns in the U.S.

In 2020, the two firms began collaborating, connecting through LaunchAlaska, a local nonprofit working to accelerate the state’s clean energy economy. Since then, Renewable IPP has shepherded the project and its stakeholders, including MEA, Matanuska-Susitna Borough, Houston, AK, and the local community, bringing it to life.

Photo Courtesy Renewable IPP 

“This is a ‘dream come true’ moment for our company, which centers around partnering with a capable and collaborative team,” Jenn Miller, Renewable IPP CEO, said in a statement. “Thanks to CleanCapital, we are expanding the envelope of solar deployment worldwide. Proving solar works in the last frontier begs the question, can’t it work anywhere?” 

The project will be located on 160 acres west of the Houston community’s junior and senior high schools. However, only 45 acres will be developed for the solar panel installation, with more than 14,000 panels in 20 rows.

The endeavor could also lead to larger solar panel farms in Alaska. CleanCapital and Renewable IPP have already begun scouting potential areas for other Alaskan solar projects. The initiatives come amid worries about the long-term supply of Cook Inlet natural gas, the state’s major power source.

“We see lots of opportunity in Alaska,” said Julia Bell, CleanCapital commercial officer. “There’s a lot of interest from utilities and stakeholders in having more renewables, so we’re really optimistic about it.”

Photo Courtesy CleanCapital

The new solar panels are designed to absorb sunlight from two sides, representing an improvement over the ones in Willow, AK. In addition, the Houston, AK, project will plant blueberry and cranberry bushes between panel rows.“We’re trying to be more environmentally friendly as we do more of these,” Miller said.

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