New solar energy project at Utah Olympic Oval will save $$$

By Lisa Riley Roche, Deseret News

Published: Mon, July 21, 2014, 3:45 p.m. MDT

 Utah Olympic Legacy Foundation President and CEO Colin Hilton, left, and Construction Manager Michael Bashore of SolarCity talk after a Utah Olympic Oval solar project is announced in Kearns, Monday, July 21, 2014. They are standing where the solar panels will be installed.

Utah Olympic Legacy Foundation President and CEO Colin Hilton, left, and Construction Manager Michael Bashore of SolarCity talk after a Utah Olympic Oval solar project is announced in Kearns, Monday, July 21, 2014. They are standing where the solar panels will be installed.

(Ravell Call, Deseret News)

KEARNS — A new solar energy project at the Utah Olympic Oval announced Monday is expected to shave about $100,000 off the speedskating facility's annual $750,000 power bill.

Much of the $1.4 million cost of the solar paneled canopies being installed above parking spaces is being paid for through a $564,000 grant from Rocky Mountain Power and $200,000 from Salt Lake County.

"We know it can't only be us looking at keeping the facility going," said Colin Hilton, president and CEO of the Utah Olympic Legacy Foundation responsible for maintaining 2002 Winter Games competition sites.

Hilton said the project will help extend the life of the foundation's endowment, established with profits from the 2002 Olympics, by reducing the subsidy needed by the oval.

The foundation projects that the new solar energy system, set to begin operating in early December, will pay for itself in five years and end up saving $3.7 million over its 20-year life.

Salt Lake County Mayor Ben McAdams said the oval provides recreational opportunities for families from throughout the area as well as hosting national and international speedskating competitions.

"It's a regional facility. We're sending the message today that we are committed to maintaining this facility as a world-class Olympic facility," McAdams said. "If the Olympics come back to Utah, this facility is ready to go."

More than 3,000 solar modules mounted on parking canopies are expected to generate more than 1 million kilowatt-hours annually to help operate the oval's 1,000 tons of refrigeration.

The 300,000-square-foot facility offers access to the iced oval track nine months of the year, while interior ice sheets are available for 11 months. The oval is open year-round for other activities.

Josh Haines, director of the state Division of Construction and Facilities Management that is overseeing the project, emphasized the environmental benefits of utilizing solar energy.

"We take the sun here for granted," Haines said, warning that as the state's population grows, the Wasatch Front's air quality will continue to deteriorate without more such projects. "We may not be seeing the sun as much."

John Harrington, the division's energy director, said the oval will be the division's biggest-ever solar energy project.

Harrington said the state has completed about 25 solar energy projects and a dozen more are underway with the Utah National Guard, at the University of Utah and at the dinosaur museum in Vernal.

Salt Lake County has funded a number of solar energy projects in government buildings, including the largest in the state as part of the Salt Palace Convention Center expansion.

The oval is the county's first contribution for a solar energy project at a facility it does not own or manage. The grant was sought by the county's township executive, Patrick Leary, and was approved by the Salt Lake County Council.

The Rocky Mountain Power grant is the largest to date awarded through the utility's Utah Solar Incentive Program.

Chad Ambrose, Rocky Mountain Power renewables program manager, said the utility is "thrilled the solar panels will reduce costs so more money can be used to train the next generation of Olympic athletes."

Email: lisa@deseretnews.com

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1. Kings Court
Alpine, UT,
July 21, 2014

After Rocky Mountain Power raises their fees for being "connected to the grid" I doubt they will save a dime.

2. Esquire
Springville, UT,
July 22, 2014

So, solar energy is feasible. The investment will pay itself off in less than 6 years. Seems like there is a lesson to be learned here.

3. Jester:)
Martinsburg, WV,
July 22, 2014

We need to stop being so dependent on fossil fuels and start using common sense no brainer modes of energy. For example: We discover magnetic forces and the best we can do is stick them on our fridges? Come on Man! What are we? Cavemen? I know we can do better than this! But I know why we continue to stumble and fail to progress. One reason is the fossil fuel company's send hitmen to snuff out and disrupt the world changing inventions which occasionally come along. Another reason is the same story it has always been. $$$$$$$$$$$ Hey! Who's that knocking on my door?...............

4. Redshirt1701
Deep Space 9, Ut,
July 22, 2014

To "Esquire" actually it won't pay for itself in 6 years. The total cost is $1.4 million, so that means it would take 14 years for payback. The funny thing is that if you took that same $1.4 million and invested for long term payback, they could have an extra $100,000 to $140,000 per year for paying their electric bills for ever. The average long term investment in the stock market makes 10% interest. If the money for the solar panel was invested, and they only took out 8%, they would have $112,000 each year for power bills, and with the 2% growth, they would have sufficient to handle inflation each year and would be able to pay about 1/7 of their power bill for ever.

Financially this makes no sense.

san fransisco , CA,
July 22, 2014

Redshirt1701 - There is a lot more to the financial return of a solar investment then electricity savings. Right off the bat you need to factor and a 30% discount on the sticker price for the Federal Investment Tax Credit, not to mention any other state incentives to go solar. Next you need to factor in the accelerated depreciation which solar assets can claim on their balance sheet. Also, lenders are becoming increasingly more comfortable with loans due to the steady predictable returns solar projects achieve. Using this leverage solar investments can start to pencil out nicely and with a lot less risk then the stock market.

It would be great if you would do a little more research before criticizing an area you clearly have no knowledge in. I'm sure the author did a little more research on the payback than dividing the cost of the project by revenue.

Solar may not be as cheap as burning coal, but with effective policy, which encourages solar investment (not just dumping money into projects), solar prices have plummeted in the past few years and are reaching the point of grid parity...Hopefully we can make it there before someone kills it.