- Associated Press - Sunday, November 8, 2015

MISSOULA, Mont. (AP) - A utility-scale solar plant capable of supplying power to about 540 homes is being proposed near Missoula.

California-based Cypress Creek Renewables, which is aggressively developing similar projects across the nation, is proposing to build a 3-megawatt facility on 40 acres.

The electricity generated by the plant would be sold to NorthWestern Energy to place on the grid.

Butch Larcombe of NorthWestern Energy said Friday no agreement has been reached on the Deer Creek project. But Cypress Creek already has 25-year agreements for a 3-megawatt solar farm near Helena and another capable of producing 2 megawatts near Reedpoint. The contracts call for both to be in operation by the end of 2016.

The Missoula County Board of Adjustment will hold a public hearing in December for a special exception to allow the solar farm on vacant property that’s zoned residential.

“I think at this point we’re recommending support of it,” Jamie Erbacher, a planner for Missoula County Community and Planning Services, told the Missoulian (http://bit.ly/1ND1Hxl).

Cypress Creek Renewables is a limited liability corporation and the parent company of Deer Creek Road Solar 1, LLC, which submitted the application to the county on Oct. 5. Cypress Creek specializes in the ownership and development of long-term solar energy projects. It was founded in California less than two years ago.

“Even though it’s a new company, there’s a lot of staff who’ve been in the (solar) industry for a long time,” spokesman Jason Carr said.

Cypress Creek’s entry into the state is a significant development, said Jeff Fox, the Montana team manager for Renewable Northwest.

“It really speaks to the falling prices of solar energy. The fact that this project can compete and economically deliver energy to NorthWestern Energy is a big deal,” Fox said.

If the solar farm is built, some 17,000 panels will be soaking in the rays within half a mile of the confluence of the Clark Fork and Blackfoot rivers, where the former Milltown Dam generated electricity for a century.

Carr said it is hoped construction can start in late winter or early spring of 2016, with the farm up and running later in the year. A 3-megawatt farm typically takes three to six months to build.

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Information from: Missoulian, http://www.missoulian.com

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