SALT LAKE CITY — The allure of clean power coupled with an endless source of energy helped the United States double its supply of solar power from 2008 to 2012.
Just in the second quarter of this year, another 832 megawatts of solar photovoltaic power were installed in the United States, a 15 percent increase over the first few months of 2013.
It puts the country on track to have a record year for solar power, with 9,400 megawatts of solar energy installed. One megawatt is generally enough to supply power to 500 homes.
Utah is getting in on the action with several projects slated to come online next year, and the Tooele Army Depot is soon poised to tap into the sun with a 1.5 megawatt project.
A Provo conference last month described solar as the "new Utah gold rush," predicting tax breaks and government rebates will help propel solar to rise "brightly" on Utah's energy horizon.
Owning solar can help the personal and business wallet, with the residential tax credits that are offered, state-sponsored incentives for bigger projects and Rocky Mountain Power throwing more than $1 million at community-based solar projects as well as throwing funding behind smaller business ventures. There are also federal cushions that can ultimately reimburse a solar power system owner as much as 60 percent of the costs over time.
Solar has also become an investors and inventors game. The U.S. Department of Energy boasts it is linked to more patents than any organization in the world, and installation costs have been shaved by 30 percent over the past four years, which adds to solar's appeal.
Nationally, some big projects and spectacular new technology full of promises have come and gone. Solyndra was one, touting equipment that didn't have to track the sun and technology that would accomplish solar power generation that had never done before.
After $535 million in loan guarantees by the U.S. Department of Energy and an FBI raid, the company went bankrupt, prompting a political scandal and criminal probe.
Other unique projects, like Nevada Solar One, became a success. Situated on the southwest fringe of Boulder City, the 75-megawatt field of 760 parabolic troughs is one of just a few concentrating solar power, or solar thermal plants in the country. Another one, Crescent Dunes Solar, is under construction in Nevada.
In Utah, major solar projects have been slow to catch on, although a nearly $9 million Department of Defense solar field in Tooele County is poised to be operational soon.
The inventor of the PowerDish technology, Infinia, declared bankruptcy in September, but the lead contractor on the project is following it through to completion, said depot spokeswoman Kathy Anderson.
Utah, ranked among the top seven states in the country by the Energy Department for its solar potential, has 10 megawatts of installed solar energy capacity, with most of that on site generation for homes and businesses.
Utah is right on the verge of having a solar farm. There are just a few sticklers that makes it tough. There are a handful of issues that can take a project down if you don't do it right. You can either achieve them and accomplish it, or they can become a barrier.
–Samantha Mary Julian, director of the Governor's Office of Energy Development
Over the years, Utah's share of big projects have been announced, but currently, IKEA has the largest commercial solar system in the state on its store in Draper, generating 1 megawatt of power. Just last month, the largest Utah-based, local and privately owned roof-mounted solar project came online at Burton Lumber in Salt Lake City, featuring 2,676 solar modules that will produce 6.42 kilowatts of power.
Utah has three "solar zones" of nearly 19,000 acres designated by the U.S. Department of Interior as solar hot spots for utility-scale projects that will have the benefit of expedited permitting and project approval, but as of yet, no applications for projects have been received, according to Utah BLM officials.
In Iron County, a proposed 100-megawatt project announced two years ago is on hold, according to Iron County Commissioner Alma Adams. The waiting on securing power purchase agreements and other details essential to make the deal a success.
Samantha Mary Julian, director of the Governor's Office of Energy Development, said several solar farms are being proposed for Utah, including the Iron County sun farm, but they remain in various stages.
"Utah is right on the verge of having a solar farm. There are just a few sticklers that makes it tough," Julian said. "There are a handful of issues that can take a project down if you don't do it right. You can either achieve them and accomplish it, or they can become a barrier."
Such things include what technology to use, who will take the power, whether the geographic location is right and whether the pricing for the power makes economic sense, she said.
"There are a lot of pieces that have to fall into place for them to come to fruition," echoed Sara Baldwin, Utah Clean Energy's policy expert in solar development.
Julian's office is working with Energy Capital Group's project proposed for Millard County.
Detailed in a September announcement, the 600-megawatt photovoltaic solar project involves leased land from the Utah School and Institutional Trust Lands Administration in Millard County, but it's some time away from turning any dirt.
The company is working with state officials to qualify for an alternative energy tax credit for the project and is awaiting approval from Millard County officials for its operating permit.
A benefit of that project, Julian said, is that it is situated close to the Intermountain Power Plant, so transmission of the power wouldn't be a hurdle.