Many cities and counties around the country are endeavoring to be more environmentally friendly. Learn how Zions Bank Public Finance was able to help one county in Utah obtain specific financing for the largest solar panel project in Utah.
>>Jade Leslie: Companies across the nation are striving to become more energy-efficient and environmentally friendly, but the ‘green effect’ isn’t just limited to large companies. Many local governments are also determined to become more effective at using resources while reducing their carbon footprint. One county government in Utah has sought to achieve this goal with an innovative approach using one of its largest rooftops. It’s a project that’s not only good for the environment, but has also provided new jobs, saved tax payers money, all while helping the state of Utah become more self-sufficient and less dependent on their local power company.
>>Sarah Wright: Many people don’t think about where their electricity comes from when you flip the light switch.
>>Sara Baldwin: It is a thrill to see 1.6 megawatts on the roof of one of our largest rooftops in Utah and it’s also so inspiring to know that that is the beginning of a very bright and sunny future here in Utah.
>>Darrin Casper: The project is designed to build basically a power plant on top of the Salt Palace, which is one of our largest buildings.
>>Jade Leslie: The Salt Palace is a 700,000 square foot convention center located in Salt Lake City, Utah. The Salt Palace is used by thousands of people every year for conventions, expos, and even roller derby events.
Twice a year, the Outdoor Retailers Convention comes to Salt Lake City, where the Salt Palace houses nearly 2,000 vendors and nearly 20,000 people.
>>Bart Allen: The big deal with this space is it was almost built exclusively for Outdoor Retailer when they were expanding and they are probably the only client that fills it. You know, twice a year they come and they fill it both times. We have a couple other clients that do use it, so it’s utilized, but it was primarily built for them.
>>Darrin Casper: It’s a big, open space, exhibit hall space, and to heat and cool it – especially cooling it in the summertime – takes a tremendous amount of energy and we bring in thousands and thousands of people from outside the state of Utah to conventions each year.
>>Jade Leslie: Every year, the Salt Palace brings millions of dollars to the state. Installing solar energy panels on top of the Salt Palace has already attracted more conventions and other large events to Utah because of the energy-efficient methods.
One of the goals of Salt Lake County is to become one of the greenest counties in the nation. To help make that goal a reality, Salt Lake County Mayor, Peter Corroon, had a vision of installing solar panels on the rooftop of the Salt Palace Convention Center.
>>Peter Corroon: Well, we had a large rooftop with nothing on it and we thought “What a great place to put solar panels.” And we want to be a leader in Salt Lake County in energy efficiency and renewable energy, so it was just sort of a natural for us.
>>Jade Leslie: Financing and installing Utah’s largest solar panel project took more time than county officials anticipated. Salt Lake County turned to its financial advisor and a team of legal counsel for help obtaining specific financing for a large renewable energy project.
>>Alan Westenskow: Salt Lake County asked us and the team we were working with to help them identify a financing structure that would allow the county to put as many solar panels on the Salt Palace, and be able to provide a cost for that power that would be competitive with market costs.
>>Jade Leslie: The financing for the 1.6 megawatt solar array amounted to just over six and a half million dollars. One point nine million came from county energy conservation bonds, one point two million came from a federal stimulus grant, 947,000 from a private investor, JP Morgan Chase, and the remaining two point six million came from other federal grants.
Over time, as Salt Lake County worked on completing the project, the cost of solar panels continued to fall while, the amount of available subsidies rose which made the economics of the project even better.
Salt Lake County also teamed up with Utah Clean Energy to modify legislation, allowing them to build such a large solar structure.
>>Sarah Wright: Utah Clean Energy changed two policies that were necessary to move the project forward. Prior to one of the policy change, you could only put very small systems up. You could only put solar projects 25 kilowatts, and with this change in policy enabling bigger systems, we’re enabling a project that’s almost a thousand times bigger than what we were allowed before 2008.
>>Jade Leslie: Solar panels run on free sunshine and have a high upfront cost, but a low ongoing operating expense. The cost of electricity is projected to continually rise with inflation and increase production costs. The solar panels allow the county to lock in the cost of a portion of their power needs, resulting in significant savings over time.
Construction for the project took about six months. There are over 6,000 panels installed here on the Salt Palace roof, covering over 198,000 square feet – that’s about the size of five football fields.
>>Andy Blakeslee: The hardest part about this project was just loading all of the materials onto the roof. We spent about a month or so with big cranes getting materials up onto these upper roof levels.
>>Jade Leslie: The electricity is connected into the main power system in the Salt Palace and will help reduce the demand for energy from the power company.
>>Peter Corroon: It’s really a great project and I think Salt Lake County has been a leader, not only locally in the state of Utah, but I think nationally in some of these efforts and we’re just proud of all our partners, including Zions Bank who helped us get through the financing, and other organizations that made this happen.
>>Sarah Wright: So as we build more solar, we’re building pollution-free resources, we’re diversifying our energy mix – just like you diversify an investment portfolio – and you are becoming self-sufficient. This is energy that’s right on your rooftop that you’re generating, so it’s an excellent investment – not just financially, not just for the jobs it brings to the state, but also for self-sufficiency.