Billings solar developer talks vision, jobs and the future of energy in Montana

Posted at 3:14 PM, May 16, 2019
and last updated 2019-05-16 17:53:10-04

BILLINGS- A Yellowstone County 20-megawatt solar project, located just west of Billings is slated to go online in the fall of 2021 and is set to power as many as 4,900 homes.

The project though, isn’t the first for developer Mark Klein, although it is the first of his, to come to fruition in Montana.

When asked why Solar? Klein said its low environmental impact, low engineering impact and solar as a resource is good.

Just off Alkali Creek Road located 1,000 yards north of the road, is where the Meadowlark Solar project is located. It’s 150 acres on private property. It will take nine months to construct and will be commercially operable in October of 2021.

Klein said there are several major reasons why Yellowstone County acts as a good partner for a solar project.

“We have easy access to transmission in Yellowstone County just outside of Billings and up by Broadview, that makes the connection of the resource, to the electric grid cost effective,” he said.

He said Billings is very friendly in terms of inviting in new technology and the creation of jobs. One of the largest components will be the tax base, where Yellowstone County will get an additional $150,000 in property taxes from the Meadowlark solar project.

“Billings and Yellowstone County, while it’s much further north than say a solar facility in Arizona or California the production of energy on this area, is still quite good,” he said.

The solar panels themselves will have little glare, Klein said.

“The panels will be somewhat tilted south and I think at the highest point off the ground, it will stand six feet,” he said.” We will use a tracking system so the trackers will move with the sun from morning to night.”

This project is considered a Community Renewable Energy Project or CREP, which is a program where energy utilities are required to have a portion of renewable projects under state law.

In terms of cost, Klein said Meadowlark is set to cost $18 million with a sizeable portion of that staying in Yellowstone County.

“$7 million will go directly into the Montana economy for construction of facility and purchase of materials,” said Klein.

While Meadowlark will be Klein’s smallest project, it will be a sizeable one for the state of Montana. Klein said he currently has 13 projects under development, six are in construction in several states including Wyoming, Utah, South Dakota, and Montana.

MT Sun, which is still in development would be an 80-megawatt project located next to Meadowlark. Klein has plans for another two solar projects in Broadview, one would be a whopping 300 megawatts, the largest in the state and according to Klein could be the largest in the Pacific Northwest.

“From concept to actual construction that takes 2 to 4 years,” he said.

There’s no mistaking, Klein is a firm believer in solar and especially at a time when the future of Montana’s energy remains very much unknown. Klein believes each kind of energy has a place in the market.

“Whether it’s coal or whether isn’t natural gas or whether it’s renewable,” he said. “My belief is that creating completion and having all sorts of generation, lowers the wholesale prices of electrify in this country and it makes our industry much more competitive.”

Reporting by Andrea Lutz for MTN News