TOOELE ARMY DEPOT — By October or November, this west desert military base will include a 15-acre field of 430 futuristic-looking parabolic mirrors tracking the sun.
It's not another Star Wars defense intiative, but the country's first utlility-scale renewable energy project that will partner the Army with private corporations.
The 8.7 million project involves Infinia Corp.'s technology called The PowerDish, a 22-foot in diameter solar dish that stands 21 feet high. Collectively, the dishes will generate an installed capacity of 1.5 megawatts of electricity, which will move the depot toward independence from nation's power grid.
Ray Torres, the depot's business development specialist, said the field of solar dishes should be operational early next year.
Infinia, which relocated its headquarters from eastern Washington to Ogden, Utah, about a year ago, will receive $4 million for the project, which sales director Charlie Walker said is the largest the company has embarked upon.
"It's exciting news for Utah, for the depot, and our company," he said. "We're all focused on it. Our entire organization is keyed toward this happening and launching the construction process."
The solar energy project is part of the overall U.S. military goal to wean itself off fossil fuel as much as possible. Such dependency is viewed as a vulnerability, while developing alternative sources of energy on a large scale will reduce that security risk, cut costs and make money as the military becomes an energy producer.
Earlier this year, the Department of Defense announced energy goals to be met by each of the branches of the military. The Army, for example, is to have 16 "net zero" installations by 2020 and 25 of those installations by 2030. Over all, the defense department set a goal of having 25 percent of its energy consumption coming from renewables such wind or solar.
At Tooele, the July 2010 installation of the Army's first industrial wind turbine put it ahead of that goal. A third of its 4-megawatt power demand is being met by the turbine. The solar dishes that will be installed later this year will mean the depot is getting nearly 60 percent of its power from renewable energy.
Torres added that the field of solar dishes is just one component of the installation's plans to be wholly separate from the public energy grid and capitalize on millions in new income by tapping the biomass energy market with its own employees through a work-share program.
Such as effort would partner depot employees with private companies that generate power through the processing of solid waste or other biomass technologies.
"What I would like to see is that the depot is totally off the energy grid, providing us some power from the developers (of this project) and employing between 30 to 50 depot employees," he said.
That type of energy independence is critical for depot operations, he said.
"We want to be secure," he said. "If the power grid goes down, we still want to be able to do business here."
An advantage at the Tooele depot is RockyMountain Power's installation of a 500-megawatt transmission line bordering Army property.
That transmission line could be part of an arrangement for the depot to dump its power into the grid, and reduce its own bill through net metering.
Ultimately, the idea is for the depot to become a Western area power supply source for other DOD agencies, according to its energy strategy policy. Large scale biomass power projects, for example, could help meet the demands of Hill Air Force Base in northern Utah, Tooele County's Dugway Proving Ground or Camp Williams in southern Salt Lake County.
"We're talking about large scale facilities, a wind farm and biomass facilities," Torres said.
Contributing: John Hollenhorst