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T.j. Kirkpatrick, Deseret News
Salt Lake City Mayor Ralph Becker, left, talks with Gov. Gary Herbert about various solar programs in the state during a Solar Cities convention at the Marriott in Salt Lake City, Utah Wednesday.

SALT LAKE CITY — Officials from 25 U.S. cities that are looking to integrate solar electricity into their municipal energy plans are gathered in Salt Lake City this week to brainstorm and share ideas on using the power of the sun.

Salt Lake City was among the first 12 cities awarded partnerships with the U.S. Department of Energy's Solar Cities America project in 2007. The group grew by 13 in 2008, and all of the cities share in financial and technical assistance from the federal agency in accelerating widespread adoption of solar energy.

Salt Lake City Mayor Ralph Becker greeted attendees from those cities Wednesday at downtown's Marriott City Center and highlighted his belief that solar power is an intrinsic part of moving toward clean, renewable power generation.

"To me, solar is a key component," Becker said. "The more quickly that we can make the transformation, not only in our community, but across this country to a solar-based energy system … the better off we're going to be in every facet of our society."

Becker has a long history of involvement in the advancement of renewable energy and told the crowd of about 200 that, as a law school student in the 1970s, he wrote a paper on the legal aspects of solar access. Years later, he helped craft legislation while serving in the Utah House of Representatives that made the idea part of state law.

Becker has set ambitious goals for Salt Lake City of establishing 10 megawatts (one megawatt can power about 1,000 homes) of solar panels on government buildings by 2015. The city already has partnered with Salt Lake County on a project that put 25 kilowatts of panels on Clark Planetarium, and the county is set to get into the solar game in a big way.

Thanks to $1.8 million in funding from the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act and funding secured by U.S. Reps. Rob Bishop, R-Utah, and Jim Matheson, D-Utah, Salt Lake County is preparing to seek bids on new installations that will greatly increase the amount of solar power generated in Utah. Salt Lake County Mayor Peter Corroon, who joined Becker and Gov. Gary Herbert in greeting conference attendees, broke the news of a large-scale solar photovoltaic plan that is slated for installation on at least three county-owned facilities.

"I'm proud today to announce that Salt Lake County will be creating, this year, over 1 megawatt of solar PV projects on our buildings," Corroon said. "That's double the amount of solar PV projects that have been done in the state to date."

Ann Ober, Salt Lake County's intergovernmental relations officer, said the projects will utilize agreements with private providers to fully fund the installations — an option made viable by a law passed in the 2010 state legislative session.

Herbert said after the conference opening that he sees solar power as part of an overall energy plan that includes continued utilization of fossil fuels.

"It's not one silver bullet that solves the problem," Herbert said. "It's going to be many areas of effort in energy development, including traditional fuels and renewables working together."

The Solar Cities America conference runs through Friday and is an invitation-only event. More information on the program's goals can be found at www.solaramericacities.energy.gov.

e-mail: araymond@desnews.com