Park City, Summit County, PCMR and Deer Valley set to power their operations with solar energy starting in 2023

Park City and Summit County, along with four other partners, recently cleared the last major administrative hurdle to building an 80-megawatt solar farm in Tooele County to provide their power needs. It will look substantially similar to this solar project in Emery County, a spokesperson said. The project is slated to provide 100% renewable energy to Park City, Summit County and Park City Mountain Resort starting in 2023, and upwards of 90% of Salt Lake City’s energy needs.
Courtesy of Brian Doll, Swinerton Renewable Energy

When the lifts start spinning at Park City Mountain Resort on New Year’s Day in 2023, and the street lights blink on in Park City that evening, if all goes according to schedule, that electricity use will be covered by energy from the sun captured in Tooele County.

Last month, a decision from the state Public Service Commission cleared the way for an alliance that includes Summit County, Park City, Park City Mountain Resort, Deer Valley Resort, Salt Lake City and Utah Valley University to receive nearly all of their electricity from renewable sources as soon as 2023.

Representatives of each of the participants in a prepared statement called the agreement a win, touting renewable energy goals, nominal price increases and the creation of construction jobs.

The Public Service Commission’s Nov. 23 decision appears to be the last major approval necessary to build an 80-megawatt solar farm in Tooele County to power municipal-sized energy consumers, officials said.

Under the rules governing these renewable energy agreements, customers seeking alternative energy sources are required to collectively pay all of the associated costs, including building the project and administrative costs like determining rates. The cost burden cannot fall to the utility’s customers that continue to use power from traditional fossil fuel sources.

Summit County Councilor Glenn Wright estimated in September that providing renewable energy for county power will cost the average Summit County resident $0.70 per year above current costs.

And Salt Lake City expects its annual costs to increase less than 2% to provide 90% of its electricity from the solar farm in Tooele, according to the prepared statement.

Summit County Sustainability Director Lisa Yoder said the Nov. 23 approval by the Public Service Commission was a big deal, the last major administrative hurdle to securing a new source of renewable energy for government uses.

Public Service Commission Administrator Gary Widerburg said that, from the commission’s point of view, the project doesn’t need any further approval.

“It’s ready to go,” Widerburg said in an interview Tuesday.

The latest decision enabled the parties to enter into a service agreement that extends beyond 15 years, something the firm building the solar farm, D.E. Shaw Renewable Energy Investments, said was necessary to secure financing for the project. That’s longer than allowed under the rule governing these sorts of renewable energy agreements, so the parties sought an exception.

Widerburg said the utility, developer and customers agreed on the proposal before submitting the application, making the commission’s decision easier.

This agreement covers municipal uses, like Park City’s electric buses and the lights at the County Courthouse, but doesn’t extend to residential customers. That, too, might change in the near future, as Summit County, Park City and Salt Lake City, along with four of the five eastern Summit County municipalities, are members of a group of 22 communities statewide engaged in an effort to power the homes and businesses in their communities with renewable electricity.

Yoder has been updating East Side city councils on the Community Renewable Energy Program’s progress, and indicated that the residential program isn’t as far along as the municipal one. She said that a group of lawyers is hammering out a governance agreement to try to get the 22 jurisdictions on the same page when it comes to sharing political power — and sharing costs — in the arrangement.

Yoder expects a draft governance agreement will be circulated to the communities in early 2021, paving the way for negotiations with Rocky Mountain Power about the program’s costs.

The communities had to pass a resolution last year to opt into the project, which five of the six Summit County cities did. But the first financial commitment remains on the horizon.

That may be a key decision point for the East Side communities. The anticipated costs are relatively small — less than $2,000, on average — and can be spread over multiple years.

Kamas’ portion, for example, would be around $2,700, according to minutes from a City Council meeting this fall. Yoder told the council that the cost could be spread over two or three years to ease budget burdens.

The money would pay the utility and state commissions to move forward in determining the rates that residential customers would pay for renewable energy. Residents would be able to opt out of the program if they choose not to pay increased energy bills.

Summit County and Park City have expressed commitment to their renewable energy goals and almost certainly will pay their portion of the upfront costs, which were estimated to be $21,520 and $13,485, respectively.

Those numbers would increase if any of the 22 partners opt out of the program, which Yoder said one already had done.

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