Jud Burkett, The Spectrum
St. George Mayor Dan McArthur chats with Utah Gov. Jon Huntsman Jr. at the launch of the SGSunSmart project Wednesday.

ST. GEORGE — If the congenial crowd and list of dignitaries were any indication, the SGSunSmart solar facility got off to a great start at its opening ceremony and ribbon-cutting Wednesday in St. George.

But the scene in the middle of the desert was almost surreal.

Against a stunning backdrop of red rock and blue sky, the stars of the show, 466 black and gray solar panels, communicated in silence with the cooperating sun and did what they do best: make electricity.

"Power is changing," said Phillip Solomon, St. George director of Energy Services. "We are making decisions today for sustainable energy tomorrow, and people have the choice to participate."

Gov. Jon Huntsman Jr. addressed the enthusiastic crowd with optimism that Utah will become a "premier destination for renewable energy." He said Utah had "land, a major grid system, creative policy-makers and willing businesses" to help reach that goal.

But the governor also referred to renewable energy as "cost-effective," a point difficult to make given the track-record of high costs of renewables.

As impressive as the solar farm appears, the new energy is expensive, and the financial return is tiny. Therefore, the $6,000 per "unit" sales have stalled at about 20 of the 100 available. SGSunSmart is also planning 19 more phases with a total of 2,000 units.

Many people milling about the ribbon-cutting ceremony were wearing sunglasses provided by SGSunSmart and eating cookies adorned with edible SGSunSmart logos, evidences of an organized campaign to sell SGSunSmart units to utility customers.

According to Rene Fleming, St. George conservation coordinator, "One unit will generate 140 kWh per month, on average."

Considering an investment cost, including interest, of about $50 per month for the 19 years of the sales contract, it's a difficult sell without the myriad of environmental benefits.