Solar PanelA new solar energy array atop the Salt Palace Convention Center is growing by 200 panels a day and will produce about 17 percent of the convention center's energy once completed this spring.

The 1.65 megawatt solar array is promoted as the largest in Utah and will cover 198,000 square feet when finished, about the size of five football fields.

Its functions include turning sunlight into energy — and business.

Kimberly Barnett, senior adviser to Salt Lake County Mayor Peter Corroon, said convention planners shopping for space often ask about how "green" the facility is. Having 4.5 acres of solar panels on the roof is expected to result in more signed contracts for the convention space below.

Some of the first potential new customers to take notice, not surprisingly, are the American Solar Energy Society and the U.S. Green Building Council. Salt Lake City is on the "short list" with both organizations for future conventions because of the solar addition, said Shawn Stinson, spokesman for the Salt Lake Convention & Visitors Bureau. "The project has definitely caught attention," he said.

The technology of the project is pretty straightforward: electricity generated on the roof is piped into the main power system, reducing the demand for energy from Rocky Mountain Power. Because the array only generates a fraction of the convention center's needs, there is no plan to sell excess power, said Greg Folta, a Salt Lake County fiscal administrator.

Salt Lake County is committed to reducing its energy usage through conservation and the use of renewable technology at its facilities.
–Peter Corroon

Financing the $6.6 million project, on the other hand, took some significant engineering. Four separate components of federal grants, including stimulus funds and $1.9 million in county energy bonds, make up the matrix of funding sources. Some of that funding comes straight to the county for the project; almost $1 million comes from private investor JP Morgan Chase, which then recoups its investment through a federal tax credit.

That funding matrix results in projected overall savings to Salt Lake County of $2.4 million after 25 years.

Complexities in the funding process delayed the project by more than a year and resulted in a smaller contract than the initial 2.6 megawatt system originally planned. Barnett said the array could still be expanded in the future — the convention center roof still has plenty of available space.

Developing solar projects has been a high priority for Corroon.

"Salt Lake County is committed to reducing its energy usage through conservation and the use of renewable technology at its facilities," he said. "This project was made possible by an unprecedented private-public partnership and serves as an example of the significant and untapped solar potential in the state of Utah."

Other county facilities where a solar generating facility has been added during Corroon's tenure include Clark Planetarium, the county's public works facility in Midvale, the Herriman and Magna libraries, the Riverton Senior Center, the environmental health center in Murray and a smaller array at the convention center.