The Albany County Board of Commissioners approved a conditional use permit Tuesday morning for a new solar energy research facility just west of Laramie.
9H Energy plans to build a .5-megawatt solar facility on five acres of private land at 1766 Welsh Ln., although access to the site itself comes via West Curtis Street.
According to director of operations Paul Bonifas, the goal of the project is to create a research partnership with the University of Wyoming and donate energy generated at the site to the College of Engineering and Applied Sciences.
“We are partnering with the University of Wyoming to bring a charitable contribution to the university in the form of a solar research facility,” Bonifas said during a meeting last week of the Albany County Planning and Zoning Commission, which also reviewed the permit and recommended approval.
Students and faculty at UW will be able to use the facility for research and hands-on classwork. The company is currently sponsoring a senior design competition with $5,000 in prizes.
The College of Engineering uses three megawatts of electricity a year, and expansion of the solar project to provide that amount is a long-term goal, Bonifas said.
The project will be located on the 12,000-acre 9H Ranch and take advantage of a nearby Carbon Power and Light substation. The ranch is owned by 9H Energy co-founder and owner Gene Humphrey, a 1973 UW graduate with a degree in mechanical engineering.
According to project documents, Wyoming has an edge over regions with similar solar resources because photovoltaic cells perform better at lower temperatures.
Cameron Wright, dean of the UW College of Engineering and Applied Sciences, said the project would be a “big step forward.” The college has access to a few small solar panel installations on top of buildings, but nothing large-scale.
Wright praised Humphrey for his generosity in providing opportunities for both students and faculty.
“The profit aspect is not at the top of his concerns, and that’s pretty rare,” he said.
Bonifas said the project will include 1,500 solar panels to be installed about seven feet off the ground. The panels are designed to absorb sunlight and reflect less light than sand or surrounding vegetation.
“Any light that is reflected off the panels is wasted energy,” he said.
Plans are in place to install landscaped screening of the site, and planning director David Gertsch said additional traffic on county roads would be minimal once the project is up and running.
The property is currently zoned for agricultural use, with residential use to the south and west of the project area.
“The Albany County Comprehensive Plan promotes properly cited solar energy projects,” he said.
More information about the project is available at 9henergy.com.