Ribbon Cut at Houston Solar Farm
At left, CleanCapital CEO Thomas Byrne holds one end of the ribbon, and AEA Executive Director Curtis Thayer holds the other, at right. In the middle, MEA CEO Tony Izzo holds the ribbon for Renewable IPP CEO Jennifer Miller, holding scissors with Renewable IPP’s co-founder and CFO Christopher Colbert.
On a cloudy, rainy August day, developers of the Houston Solar Farm cut the ribbon on the largest photovoltaic array yet built in Alaska. The solar panels have a rated capacity of 8.5 MW, enough to power about 1,400 customers of Matanuska Electric Association (MEA)—which is nearly three times more households than Houston itself has.
Power of Collaboration
Installation took about one year, since Anchorage-based Renewable Independent Power Producers (IPP) announced an investment by CleanCapital, a nationwide underwriter of solar and energy storage projects out of New York City. CleanCapital serves as the long-term owner-operator, and Renewable IPP’s spinoff Energy 49 is the official developer.
The board of the Alaska Energy Authority also approved a $4.9 million loan through its Power Project Fund.
“This ribbon cutting ceremony is significant because it demonstrates the power of collaboration and capital to advance the energy transition,” says Thomas Byrne, CEO and co-founder of CleanCapital. “In addition to construction financing, we will fund Renewable IPP’s operations to accelerate the development of the company’s solar pipeline here.”
Renewable IPP began working with CleanCapital in 2020 when they were connected by Launch Alaska, a local nonprofit that works to accelerate clean energy projects.
“Projects like the Houston Solar Farm are critical to suppressing future electricity costs and shoring up Alaska’s energy security,” says Jenn Miller, CEO of Renewable IPP. “To meet future electricity demand, Alaska must deploy proven and cost-competitive renewable energy technologies. It is up to us to make the change, and today we did just that.”
Renewable IPP already operates a 1.2-MW solar farm in Willow. It was the largest in Alaska when it was built in 2018 as a 140-kW pilot project, enough to power at least twenty typical homes. The following year, the Willow array was expanded more than eightfold.
The 45-acre solar array is located near Houston High School, about 12 miles down the Parks Highway from a smaller solar farm in Willow.
MEA has a twenty-five-year contract with CleanCapital to buy power from the Houston Solar Farm. Miller credits MEA with supporting independent power production, which diversifies the utility’s energy sources.
MEA CEO Tony Izzo adds, “Member surveys indicate people want MEA to produce more power with renewable energy, but not at an additional cost. We believe this project achieves that goal while helping MEA responsibly meet the board’s clean energy target.”
The project covers 45 acres near Houston High School with ballasted bi-facial photovoltaic panels. During construction, the project created thirty construction jobs. Maintenance of the solar panels is expected to employ five to ten part-time workers, down from last year’s estimate of as many as twenty maintenance jobs.