PAROWAN — The state's first utility scale solar plant was officially commissioned Thursday, shining a new light on an era of renewable energy for Utah by more than doubling its solar footprint.
The Utah Red Hills Renewable Park operated by Scatec Solar will feed enough power for 18,500 homes into the grid under a 20-year contract with Rocky Mountain Power.
At a cost of $188 million, the 104-megawatt plant in Parowan is part of a renewable energy portfolio that will help get the state to an energy mix in which 25 percent of the power generated in Utah will be from renewables by 2025.
Thursday's official "commissioning" of the plant — which included tours and remarks by company officials — will be followed by an official startup next week of the 630-acre photovoltaic solar facility.
"The commissioning of the Utah plant is a significant landmark for Scatec Solar. The fact that we were able to build this 104 MW plant within 12 months is the proof of our company’s capability to deploy solar power rapidly," said Raymond Carlsen, CEO of Scatec Solar ASA. "The Utah plant also underlines the importance of delivering results and choosing partners whose core values match our own — in this case, Swinerton, Google and Prudential Capital Group."
Once it fires up, it will be among the 12 largest plants of its kind in North America and the largest operated by Scatec Solar.
The Utah Red Hills Renewable Park began construction in January of this year, with 80 percent of the work done by local companies and crews.
State energy development officials say Utah is in the midst of a solar boom, with Lehi-based Vivint Solar announcing the state will be home to the company's regional headquarters in a move set to add 7,000 new jobs.
SunEdison, which acquired First Wind, is pursuing multiple utility-scale projects in Iron and Beaver counties. It is the largest global renewable energy project developer and recently announced plans for a $2.2 billion acquisition of Utah-based residential solar system provider Vivint Solar.
Three years ago, then-Interior Secretary Ken Salazar established 17 new "solar energy zones," on close to 300,000 acres in six states, including Utah. The swaths of land are designed to capture the nation's best solar producing potential by streamlining the federal regulatory process.
With its sunny days and cool temperatures, company officials say Utah is one of the top seven states in the United States with the greatest solar capacity potential. In 2008, Utah enacted the Energy Resource and Carbon Emission Reduction Initiative, setting a renewable portfolio goal of 20 percent by 2025, requiring utilities to pursue renewable energy to the extent that it is cost-effective to do so. With the Red Hills project, Utah is the first state to build a solar plant greater than 80 megawatts without a more aggressive Renewable Portfolio Standard.
Across the country, dramatic cost decreases coupled with solar production tax credits are helping to fuel a solar revolution.
The Energy Information Administration said the total U.S. solar generation was about 3.5 million megawatt hours in September of 2015, with 33 percent coming from small-scale solar and 67 percent derived from utility-scale generation.
According to the Solar Energy Industries Association, the nation's top companies are embracing solar installation in a significant way. In the last year alone there was a 59 percent growth in companies' installation of solar. Wal-Mart leads the way, with 142 megawatts of installed capacity at 348 locations.