DILLON – Beaverhead County is known for ranching, but it may soon be in the business of farming solar energy.
“You know, everybody strives to get economic development, diversify your economy. That’s going to be quite a process that I’m intrigued with to see the economic benefit to Beaverhead County,” said Beaverhead County Commissioner Mike McGinley.
The Boise-based company Clenera plans to build a 1,300-acre solar panel farm on property about 10 miles north of Dillon — on state-owned land just west of Interstate 15.
The company claims it will generate $18 million in property tax revenue for the county over a 35-year period.
“I personally think it will be an advantage, where it’s located right in the corridor of Interstate 15 as opposed to putting it up in some pristine valley someplace, I think that’s an advantage,” McGinley said.
Clenera has about 20 solar farms throughout the West. The company approached the state about a year ago showing interest in purchasing the Beaverhead land.
“They said it’s got good sunlight, Dillon has a lot of sunny days and there’s a good transmission line that goes through the area, so they look for areas where they can transmit the power and where they have good sunlight,” said Tim Egan with the Montana Department of Natural Resources and Conservation.
Currently, two local ranches have permits with the state to graze cattle on the property, but the state would rather turn over this land to the solar panel farm because it would generate far more revenue for the state than the grazing permits.
“It generates between $2,000 and $3,000 a year on grazing and this will generate about $480,000 for the trust, so we’re looking to generate revenue for our trust funds and that’s kind of where we’re looking for new opportunity with solar,” said Egan.
If approved, construction on the project could begin by 2020.