Isle startup plans Idaho plant
The energy operation will be the firm's first outside of Hawaii
A startup Hawaii company is planning to build a solar-thermal energy plant at an Idaho utility's test site, a move it hopes will help prove the company's technology to be commercially viable.
The 50-kilowatt plant -- in Rathdrum, Idaho, northeast of Spokane, Wash. -- will be the first outside Hawaii for Honolulu-based Sopogy Inc., and the first on an electric utility's site. The company is planning to break ground next month on another plant at the Natural Energy Laboratory of Hawaii Authority on the Big Island.
The Idaho plant will be on half-acre a clean-energy test site owned by Avista Utilities, the electric provider for central Washington and northern Idaho.
Jim Maskrey, vice president of sales and business development for Sopogy, said yesterday that Avista was selected because it was one of the few utilities willing to lease space at a discounted rate for such a project.
"They're putting their money where their mouth is," he said.
The new plant will feed electricity into Avista's power grid once deployed next summer, Maskrey said.
The company is in talks over a similar purchase-power agreement with Hawaiian Electric Light Co. for the NELHA plant, which is expected to be larger -- between 250 kilowatts and 1 megawatt -- than the Idaho installation.
The company's plants use the same principle as residential solar hot water heaters, but with higher temperatures that create steam that can turn turbines to generate electricity or run chillers for a specialized type of air conditioning known as absorption air conditioning.
The technology differs from photovoltaic systems, which make electricity directly from sunlight.
Other companies already make solar-thermal plants, Maskrey said, but their technology is commercially feasible only for very large installations that require many acres of land. Sopogy's systems are designed to use less space, in some cases as small as a building rooftop.
"In a lot of places you don't have thousands of acres," Maskrey said.
Sopogy, founded last year, has 11 employees. It is currently operating on $3 million in investor funding, with plans to seek as much as $10 million more later this year, he said.