The solar farm project, which will cost $4.5 million involves 15 acres of land leased from the city of Ontario in the northwest part of the city near highway 201. (The Enterprise/Joe Siess)

ONTARIO – The first commercial solar project in Ontario is in the works, and comes with the hope of expanding access to renewable energy.

The project, which would cost around $4.5 million, involves 15 acres of land leased from the City of Ontario in the northwest part of the city near highway 201. 

Ryan Sheehy, president of Fleet Development, the Enterprise-based company developing the project, said that the solar farm is still in the design phase, and the company is working to get it approved by the Oregon Community Solar Program.

The Oregon Community Solar Program facilitates access to solar power for customers of Portland General Electric, Pacific Power and Idaho Power.

Although the project is still in the early stages, Sheehy doesn’t expect there to be any issues. 

Sheehy said that Fleet has completed several rooftop solar projects on apartments, and is currently developing three projects, representing the company’s first attempts at utility scale projects. 

Sheehy said the company is uncertain of how long it will take the project to be up but it should be operating by fall 2021. 

Fleet has already gone through most of the preliminary stages with the local power utility in the area, Idaho Power, but still needs to proceed with the interconnection process.

Fleet recently contacted Dan Cummings, Ontario’s city community development director, about finalizing the lease for the 15 acres from the city, and has already established an interconnection agreement with Idaho Power. 

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The interconnection agreement stipulates what kind of infrastructure upgrades will be needed and how much those will cost. The upgrades will run around $350,000 and Fleet is responsible for all costs, Sheehy said.  

Fleet Development partnered with Viridian Management, an affordable housing management company that manages housing complexes in Ontario. 

The Fleet solar farm would produce around three megawatts of power, enough to power 1,200 households, Sheehy said, and 10% of that power will be used to power Viridian’s properties. 

The rest of the renewable energy will flow into Idaho Power’s system for sale as renewable energy. 

Cummings said that, “one would hope that the reason they are doing this is because it would reduce the power fee costs to those apartment complexes which would keep the bill lower.” 

Jordan Rodriguez, a corporate communications specialist at Idaho Power, explained the process for a solar project like the Fleet project.  

Rodriguez explained that federal regulations require utilities such as Idaho Power to interconnect with solar projects. 

Rodriguez said solar projects first go through a feasibility study to make sure the project is capable of being carried out followed by a system impact study and interconnection facilities study, to determine if the existing power system can accommodate the project.

Then, Rodriguez said, the project must complete an interconnection agreement to make sure the project meets the utility’s safety and reliability standards.

Sheehy said at this point Idaho Power is waiting for Fleet to sign off on the interconnection agreement. 

Once that occurs, Idaho Power will schedule the construction of the upgrades. 

Sheehy said that one reason Fleet chose to move on the Ontario project was because the city’s Idaho Power substation happened to have enough capacity to handle the project. 

Additionally, the interconnection costs can be very expensive depending on the location, but Fleet found the cost in Ontario to be reasonable. 

Cummings said that given how large the facility will be, the solar power generated from the Fleet farm could benefit Ontario by supplying power to multiple housing complexes. 

It could also benefit local developers, because they will have access to more cost-effective power, Cummings said.

“They are going to have a surplus that they will be able to sell to other entities, other buildings, maybe the hospital,” Cummings said. 

Many individuals and businesses see converting to renewable energy as a priority., Sheehy said. “One of the main reasons Community Solar exists in Eastern Oregon is to provide energy equity,” Sheehy said. 

Previously, it was expensive to use solar energy but Fleet hopes to help expand access to low-income individuals. 

“Just because you are low income and you live in affordable housing doesn’t mean you shouldn’t be able to participate in the green energy transition,” Sheehy said. 

News tip? Contact reporter Joe Siess: news@malheurenterprise.com or 541-473-3377. 

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