St. George ‘SunSmart’ solar project earns award


David Emille

BY DAVID DEMILLE August 19, 2009

ST. GEORGE - The city of St. George's Energy Services Department has been recognized with a "Smart Energy Innovation Award" for its new solar farm.

SunSmart, a joint program between the city and Dixie-Escalante Electric that was completed in January, is built around the state's largest solar farm, a 100-kilowatt facility housed on 17 acres on the south side of Bloomington.

During a meeting of the Utah Associated Municipal Power Systems - UAMPS - Aug. 13, St. George received the agency's newest award, which recognizes a municipal utility for "excellence in implementing energy efficiency programs and/or renewable projects."

"St. George's SunSmart solar program is a brilliant concept," said Doug Hunter, UAMPS general manager. "It provides a very viable means for the city's residents to invest in renewable solar generation at a central plant location, and to enjoy all of the benefits, including tax credits, without the hassle and complications of building and maintaining a system in their own back yards. Everyone benefits."

The program was developed as a way to take advantage of the St. George area's average of more than 310 days of sunlight per year. Each unit costs $6,000 - the cost to the city to build each unit - and residents receive the power credits and tax incentives that come with it for 20 years. Residents can purchase a one-kilowatt "unit" on the solar grid through a one-time payment, allowing homeowners unable to install solar panels at their own homes to tap into the sun's energy anyway.

While the purchase is unlikely to pay itself off at current power rates, ongoing discussion of carbon trading and increasing environmentally friendly legislation could spell rising costs in the future, making a unit a wise investment, said Phillip Solomon, the city's energy services director.

"We're trying to provide options for our customers so they can hedge their bets for the future," he said.

St. George is unique among Utah cities in that it only receives 40 percent of its power from coal-fired power plants. Nearly half the city's power comes from natural gas, and the SunSmart program raised the amount of renewable energy to more than 12 percent. Former Gov. Jon Huntsman Jr. had set a goal for Utah municipalities to get 20 percent of their power from renewable sources by 2025.

The SunSmart solar photovoltaic facility, housed on 17 acres near the wastewater treatment plant on the south side of Bloomington, currently has a capacity of 100 kilowatts, but plans are in place to expand to 20 times that size.

Rene Fleming, the city's conservation coordinator, said additional efforts to improve efficiency and tap into renewable energy are on the table, including an energy-efficiency rebate program and a biomass gas generation facility that could be installed at the landfill.

"It's more than an economic thing," Fleming said. "It's being proactive about the environment."

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