In the past five years, City Hall has installed solar panels on six municipal buildings, including the Marsac Building, the police station and the Public Works Building on Iron Horse Drive. Now, a seventh project promises to increase the city's current solar-power production by about 175 percent.
Matt Abbott, Park City's environmental project manager, said Monday that the city is getting ready to ask for bids on a project to install as many as 732 solar panels on the Park City Municipal Athletic & Recreation Center, sometimes called the PC MARC. That compares to 438 panels already installed on the other six buildings.
Abbott said the Park City Council has approved a budget of just over $425,000 for the installation.
"The RFP (request for proposals) will be released as soon as it gets through legal," Abbott said. "My deadline for the installation is next June. It would be great to get it done this fall, but I'd rather get a good price and a good contractor than rush the project. It'll cover between 16 and 18 percent of the MARC's total (electricity) use. The MARC is our number one electricity consumer and our number one natural gas consumer."
Plans call for as many as 600 of the panels to be installed on the pitched roof that faces the parking lot and as many as 140 panels on the flat section of the roof.
"It would definitely be our biggest and most visible project," he said. "And it's our last big roof that we know can handle solar for the time being.
Because of that visibility, the city is also focusing on the appearance of the panels, Abbott said.
"I think it's important to have a certain aesthetic appeal in what is installed, because we're trying also to advertise solar to our neighbors. So whatever balance we can get between size and aesthetics is probably what we're going to go for."
The city began its foray into solar electricity in 2009 with the installation of 24 panels on the Park City Ice Arena at a cost of about $60,000.
Much of that funding is no longer available, putting most of the burden of the MARC installation on the city. However, in the meantime, the cost of solar installations has dropped dramatically. Abbott estimated that the "hard costs," including the price of the panels, are now about a quarter of what they were in 2009, and installation costs are also dropping. He pointed out that the electricity generated by the panels at the ice arena (over their expected 25-year lifespan) will cost more than $11 per kilowatt. "When I'm penciling out a project like the MARC, I'm looking at $2.50 to $3.00 per kilowatt. So (it's) a fourth of the cost of our first project, per kilowatt."
According to Abbott's calculations, the city is currently saving between 53 and 76 percent on its renewable energy when compared to rates charged by Rocky Mountain Power, and those savings will increase as Rocky Mountain Power's rates rise. In the next 25 years, he said, those savings (without including the MARC installation) should add up to about $246,500.
"In terms of us managing our long-term costs, it's a smart move," he said. "And what's also really important is, as a government, we don't receive any tax breaks for the systems that we install. So we see it as the responsible thing to do, even without the massive tax breaks. So corporations and private citizens have a lot more financial advantages working for them when it comes to a solar install."
To encourage the use of solar panels by homes and businesses, the city is also a participant in Summit Community Solar, a nonprofit organization managed by Utah Clean Energy. In 2013 about 60 county homeowners installed about 330 kilowatts of solar power, according to the group's website.
"Last year, with Summit Community Solar, we saw a 500 percent growth (in total kilowatts) in the solar market, which was a huge year," Abbott said. "I don't think this year is going to be quite as strong, but we'd like to do another program next year to keep goosing that market."
Among this year's projects, the U.S. Ski and Snowboard Association (USSA) recently installed 126 solar panels on the roof of its Center of Excellence at Quinn's Junction. The panels are expected to produce enough electricity to power five to six Utah homes and save USSA about $8,000 a year. To fund the project, USSA received a grant of $112,500 from Rocky Mountain Power's Blue Sky renewable-energy program.
Although the MARC project represents the city's "last big roof" for solar panels, Abbott already has his eye on other renewable-energy scenarios.
"We know there are opportunities to generate electricity off our water pressure, and we're trying to see what we could do with those," he said.
Abbott noted there are a number of pressure-reducing valves in the city's Old Town water system supplied by the Judge Tunnel. Replacing those valves with "micro hydro" generators could significantly increase the city's renewable energy production, he said. The water treatment plant at Quinn's Junction was also designed to accommodate micro hydro, he said.
"I know that those two projects have been penciled in for a number of years and we're constantly kind of figuring out what the best opportunity is. They've got a great payback, but we want to make sure that, if we're going to spend a half a million dollars, that we spend it right." He said the city is also looking at the potential of micro hydro at the mouth of the Spiro Tunnel.
"Micro hydro is interesting. It's sexy. It's interesting stuff, and it would be innovative for the city to have it."