HOT SPRINGS | About 300 acres of an alfalfa field southwest of Hot Springs could soon become home to South Dakota's only "utility scale" solar power collection site.
Fall River County commissioners learned this month that a solar power generation company based in California with ties to South Korea is in the early stages of creating a solar collection site that could generate enough electricity to power about 10,000 homes as early as September 2019.
The firm is already obtaining easements with landowners and forging a connection with Black Hills Energy in order to build the solar facility and transmit the energy created.
Ed Maddox, a project manager, and Ken Kostok, engineering and operations manager, both with 174 Power Global Co., visited with the county commission in early August about the South Dakota Sun Solar Energy Project — labeled the first “utility scale” solar energy project in the state.
The project would be constructed near Minnekhata Junction, along U.S. Highway 18, between Edgemont and Hot Springs.
Maddox said the project began earlier this year when the company negotiated 20-year leases with landowners to build the solar power collection station. Meanwhile, securing a transmittal easement with Black Hills Energy is in the preliminary study and design stage.
Since Fall River County has no zoning regulations, no permits were required for environmental surveys, however the company has been completing baseline environmental surveys during the last several months on its own.
The project would involve about 300 acres — currently an alfalfa field — adjacent to the Black Hills Energy substation, near the junction of highways 18 and 89.
Multiple types of solar collectors will track the sun daily as it rises in the east and sets in the west, Kostok said. He also said there will be a series of posts, one per collector, in rows of the project with “torque tubes” that allow the collectors to follow the sun. Seasonable changes would need to be made manually, he said.
The collectors stand on a post about three feet off the ground and can pivot 60 degrees, plus or minus, from a horizontally flat position. Altogether, the collector and post will rise about seven feet off the ground.
According to plans, these collectors will gather photovoltaic energy from the sun and turn it into direct current electricity as sunlight interacts with semiconductors in the collectors. The DC electricity will be converted into alternating current electricity at the substation, Kostok said.
Black Hills Energy will purchase power from the solar project — currently estimated at 52 megawatts, or about 108,000 megawatt hours annually, enough to power 10,000 homes — at their investment cost, Maddox said, at the cost of about $40 per megawatt hour, or 4 cents per kilowatt hour.
According to Maddox and Kostok, the individual collector units can last for 20 years with minimal maintenance.
The company’s land lease is for a 20-year period, but Kostok expected the company to continue leasing land for solar collection after this expired. The company would be responsible for returning the site to its original condition if the lease was not extended, Maddox said. Black Hills Energy also requires this.
Maddox said the company plans to host an open house at the end of the summer to engage the community in this effort and explain more about the project.
The timeline shared with the commissioners showed an engineering effort taking place later this year, followed by procurement, construction and commissioning by September 2018. Maddox and Kostok expected the collection station to be operational by September of 2019.
According to industry sources, 174 Power Global Corporation is a member of the solar energy industries association, and is based in Irvine, Calif. The company is also part of the Hanwha Corporation, one of South Korea’s largest corporate conglomerations.
The company is also creating solar collection facilities totaling 3,000 megawatts across the U.S., including those in Florida, Alabama, Texas, Michigan, Wyoming, Utah, Nevada, and Oregon.
Midway Solar, for example, in McCamey, Tex., is a 180-megawatt collection center on about 1,500 acres that is expected to begin commercial operations in 2018. Sweetwater Solar in Rock Springs, Wyo., is a 105-megawatt solar collection center scheduled to begin operations in late 2018 or early 2019.
According to Hanwha’s corporate history, the South Korean company has roots in rebuilding South Korea following World War II and the Korean conflict. Hanwha began as a gunpowder manufacturer, Korean Explosives Company (Hangook Whayak), and specialized in producing nitroglycerin for industrial use. It later purchased a power plant, got into the petrochemical and financial industries and built South Korea’s first thermal power station in the 1960s.
Hanwha continued to grow into the finance, leisure, retail and service industries during the 1980s.
However, the 1997 Asian financial collapse forced Hanwha to restructure and sell off many of its root companies.
Hanwha stayed in financial services, got into insurance, manufacturing auto parts, and producing advanced materials for solar energy collection, by the early 2000s.
In 2010, Hanwha chose solar energy as its growth industry. The company also grew in the chemical and defense areas.