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New solar panels may help power a future with more U.S. gold medalists

Published: Wednesday, July 9 2014 5:50 p.m. MDT

The U.S. Ski and Snowboard Association Center of Excellence was outfitted with 126 solar panels, which are expected to save the association about 8,000 per year — money which it plans on using to power future athletes' gold medal goals.

Susan Montoya Bryan, AP

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PARK CITY — Although the year 2018 may seem far off to most Americans, thoughts of the upcoming Winter Olympic Games weigh heavily on the mind of U.S. snowboarder Jackie Hernandez.

"Sochi was a good experience. It was fun. The competing piece didn’t go as planned, but it was definitely overall an awesome experience. … I’m looking forward to the next one," Hernandez said Wednesday.

She is just one of about 200 athletes training for the 2018 Olympics at the U.S. Ski and Snowboard Association Center of Excellence in Park City.

The center was outfitted with 126 solar panels Wednesday, which are expected to save the ski and snowboard association about $8,000 per year — money it plans on using to power future athletes' gold medal goals.

The 32-kilowatt solar array was funded by Rocky Mountain Power's Blue Sky renewable energy program, which awarded the association $112,500 in 2013 for the panels.

"This is a really exciting project," Rocky Mountain Power spokesman Jeff Hymas said. "The cost savings that U.S. Ski and Snowboard Association will see from this Blue Sky-funded project is going to help power the future of more Olympians."

It's a future that isn't cheap, according to Trisha Worthington, the association's executive vice president, who said it is very expensive to train even one athlete for the Olympics.

"It costs hundreds of thousands of dollars to train a single athlete over the four years that leads up to the Olympics, so every dollar we can put back into the program is helpful," she said.

The solar panels are expected to produce enough energy each year to power an equivalent of about five or six Utah homes. Worthington said the grant from the Blue Sky Program is a eco-friendly and economically generous step forward.

"It’s really important to us to support renewables and reduce our carbon footprint. … For every dollar saved, this will reduce our utility bill and for every dollar saved that means more money for athletics and developing Olympians," Worthington said.

The 85,000-square-foot center was built in 2009 to offer athletes physical therapy, trainers and nutritionists to help them become successful.

"There is a lot more that goes into it that people don’t understand. It’s super important to be fit physically and mentally, and there’s definitely a lot that plays into being No. 1," Hernandez said.

"Being able to be here with all the other athletes, it’s exciting. It's way more fun," she said. "We are very fortunate to have this place here."

The solar panels on the roof of the Excellence Center are expected to last through 2064, giving as much as $400,000 back to athletes through the next 12 Olympics.

Solar panels and other renewable energy options are becoming more economically accessible to the average American, Synergy Power owner Chad Hofheins said.

"It’s getting way more economic for people to install solar now so it’s a great time to do it," he said. "With the incentives that are available on the residential side, you can get about 70 percent of it paid for by the incentives."

To update the average home with solar panels, Hofheins said it could cost anywhere from $15,000 to $30,000, depending on energy usage.

Email: mcollette@deseretnews.com, Twitter: MirandaCollette

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