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Solar panels update 93-year-old Columbus Center

Published: Wednesday, July 14 2010 1:54 p.m. MDT

Parks and Recreation director Troy Bennett, center, and Parks and Recreation Supervisor Aaron Wiet, right, show South Salt Lake City Mayor Cherie Wood the panels that have been installed on the roof of the Columbus Community Center in South Salt Lake City Wednesday, July 14, 2010. Thirty-nine panels have been installed so far and they plan to triple the amount by the end of the year.

Sarah A. Miller, Deseret News

SOUTH SALT LAKE — The historic Columbus Center has gone modern. On Wednesday, the 93-year-old building had 39 solar panels installed on the roof of the gymnasium.

The panels are currently generating enough energy to power two to three homes on a typical day.

"This is the first solar project anywhere near this size in South Salt Lake," said Jeff Hymas, a spokesman for Rocky Mountain Power.

The project came to life when the folks at Wasatch Sun, a local contracting company, called the city, asking if they were interested in developing any solar power systems. As they got to talking, Rocky Mountain's Blue Sky Program came up, resulting in an application and funding being granted for the unique venture.

"We're trying to reduce the amount of power we're pulling from the grid," Troy Bennett, director of Parks and Recreation for South Salt Lake, said. "We're also doing some things inside the building that's going to increase our efficiencies and not use as much power."

The program is made possible by power customers who volunteer to pay a little extra on their bill each month, which subsidizes alternative energy projects, such as the Blue Sky program.

"This is a great project. It's brand new technology on a very old building," Richard Walje president of Rocky Mountain Power said.

South Salt Lake City Mayor Cherie Wood said the new partnership will not only benefit residents, but "it's going to save us money, it's a good example and it's definitely a step in the right direction to leaving a smaller (carbon) footprint."

At the entrance to the library of the community center stands an educational kiosk with a Web-based monitoring system that is constantly showing information and data regarding the solar panels.

Walje said the educational features that would accompany a facility such as the Columbus Center, as well as the opportunity to educate the public "and, in this case children, on new energy sources and how they can activate and participate in generating their own energy," was a great reason to jump in on the project.

The 39 panels installed Wednesday aren't the end of the Columbus Center's green movement, as officials plan on installing more panels in the future.

"Ultimately, when they install the remaining panels, they expect it to generate about 50 percent of the building's needs," said Rocky Mountain Power customer service communications manager Alene Bentley.

e-mail: ebassett@desnews.com

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