A growing number of Utah customers want to buy electricity from renewable energy sources, especially in-state projects. This is the first utility-sized solar project to be funded in part by Blue Sky customers and we plan to do more. —Company president Richard Walje
SALT LAKE CITY — The state’s largest electric utility has announced plans for a large-scale alternative energy project.
Rocky Mountain Power unveiled a plan Wednesday to build a solar farm that would provide enough electricity to power 500 homes. When completed, the project would have about 9,000 panels. It will be partially funded by the company’s Blue Sky program.
It would be the first Blue Sky solar project to provide renewable energy for all Rocky Mountain Power customers in Utah. More than 38,000 customers in Utah participate in Blue Sky, a voluntary program aimed at providing customers an option to support renewable energy.
The location of the solar farm will be determined later this year following the completion of various studies. The company initially considered locations in the Salt Lake City area but is now looking at other sites it owns that would make the project less expensive to build while producing an estimated 15 percent to 20 percent more energy.
The project will initially provide 2 megawatts of power but may be expanded later to produce 5 megawatts. If approved by the Utah Public Service Commission, the solar project is expected to be online in June 2016.
Noting that Rocky Mountain Power is the second-largest rate-regulated utility owner of wind resources in the country, company president Richard Walje said the energy from the new project would be in addition to the renewable energy the utility already buys from other wind and solar projects in Utah.
“A growing number of Utah customers want to buy electricity from renewable energy sources, especially in-state projects,” Walje said. “This is the first utility-sized solar project to be funded in part by Blue Sky customers and we plan to do more.”
The Blue Sky program goes beyond the renewable resources included in the utility’s basic electric service mix by helping to build a larger market for renewable energy through increased demand.
When customers enroll in Blue Sky, the utility purchases renewable energy certificates from alternative energy facilities in the West to match the Blue Sky purchases. Company officials said the process guarantees that electricity from renewable resources is delivered to the regional power system equal to the amount of Blue Sky purchases.
Over time, the program reduces the need for electricity generated from nonrenewable sources such as fossil fuels, and it has measurable environmental benefits while increasing demand for renewable energy in the region, company officials said.
The announcement was met with mild criticism by a local environmental advocacy group.
"This small solar project is welcome news, but is still a drop in the bucket compared to Rocky Mountain Power's overreliance on polluting energy sources like coal," said Christopher Thomas, executive director of HEAL Utah. "We hope today's baby step toward solar quickly becomes the marathon effort Utah customers want."