Greenbacker Renewable Energy Company (GREC) is the new owner of the solar farm project to be built near Cokeville and Cokeville Mayor Rose Arndt said the project is shovel ready after a short delay during several changes of ownership.
“The Industrial Siting Commission has approved the project and we are just waiting for them to start construction,” Arndt said. “It could be this late fall or early next spring; a lot depends on weather, availability of materials and labor.”
The solar project is located approximately 7½ miles south of the town of Cokeville and the number of solar panels has not been determined, according to those interviewed by the Herald.
Mayor Arndt said the project is a bittersweet one as some of the surrounding residents are upset that the area will become an “eyesore.” Others complain about the impact on wildlife, Arndt said. The benefit to the surrounding communities includes increased population bases and impact fees to improve and fund community infrastructure projects.
According to their website, “GREC is a publicly reporting, non-traded limited liability company that acquires and manages income-generating renewable energy and other energy-related businesses. Our business objective is to generate attractive risk-adjusted returns for our investors, consisting of both current income and long-term capital appreciation. We do this by acquiring and financing the construction and operation of income-generating renewable energy and sustainable projects, primarily within North America. GREC invests in a diversified portfolio of income-producing renewable energy power facilities that sell long-term electricity contracts to off-takers with high credit quality, such as utilities, municipalities, and corporations.”
The solar farm project near Cokeville could take two to five years to complete and would need an average of 100 temporary workers during construction, and possibly provide up to 30 permanent jobs when completed.
Arndt said in the small town of Cokeville, any major construction impacts water, sewer, utilities and emergency services, as well as increasing the need for parking areas for recreational vehicles and fifth-wheels for temporary housing.
“We also get the overflow from Kemmerer projects,” Arndt said. “I especially appreciate the concerns Kemmerer’s and Diamondville’s senior citizens brought up at the recent community meeting in Kemmerer; an increase in water and sewer rates could impact them and Cokeville residents significantly.”
Arndt said she and Cokeville’s city council are looking at funding options for addressing the impact of the growth on the community. She said Cokeville was awarded a little under $800,000 in impact fees from the Lincoln 1 Solar project; however, those fees are released on a monthly basis and make it difficult to address major community infrastructure projects up front. Ultimately, Arndt said, the residents and grants pay for funding those projects.
“However, we need a paradigm shift,” Arndt said. “If you want to minimize the impact you have to let our communities grow. Otherwise, we can be priced into extinction.”
Former Lincoln County Commissioner Kent Connelly told the Gazette that he thought there would only be 4 to 5 jobs permanent jobs at the solar farm in Cokeville. He said he didn’t think this project would have as many solar panels as the one at Sage Junction. He didn’t expect to see the installation start until next spring.
“This has been a four-year project so far,” Connelly said. “It takes a long time to go through the permit process but I know they have completed all of that and have the approval of the industrial siting commission now.”
Kemmerer City Administrator Brian Muir said that Greenbacker Solar bought the project from Broad Reach Solar which also had developed a long-term battery storage and as far as he knew Greenbacker will have both the solar panels and the batteries.
Any funds coming from the solar farm company goes to the county and the county distributes it to the city, Muir said. Muir said he expects the overflow of construction workers at the solar project will also impact Kemmerer and Montpelier, Idaho, as Cokeville has limited housing and motel room availability.
“The construction company that will be handling the installation is Spartan Construction who have an office in Evanston,” Muir said. “It should take about 24 months to install. The big question for the startup of installation is getting the necessary supplies and labor needed; and that is a big concern for all planned projects today.”