Salt Lake's 'largest renewable energy initiative' is now operational after several snags

Brandon Terry, project manager from SOLV Energy, gives a tour of part of the facility to Salt Lake City Mayor Erin Mendenhall and other local officials as they open the Elektron Solar Project west of Grantsville in Tooele County on Monday.

Brandon Terry, project manager from SOLV Energy, gives a tour of part of the facility to Salt Lake City Mayor Erin Mendenhall and other local officials as they open the Elektron Solar Project west of Grantsville in Tooele County on Monday. (Scott G Winterton, Deseret News)


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ROWLEY, Tooele County — A massive solar farm spread across 550 acres of land just west of the Great Salt Lake is finally up and running, providing a major new renewable energy source for a few Utah cities — and other entities — seeking to switch to renewable energy sources.

Salt Lake City Mayor Erin Mendenhall and Park City Mayor Nann Worel were among the dignitaries on hand Monday as D. E. Shaw Renewable Investments and SOLV Energy cut a ribbon to signal the opening of the Elektron Solar Project after a handful of unforeseen geopolitical snags.

"This is the largest renewable energy initiative Salt Lake City has ever been a part of," said Mendenhall, moments before helping cut the ribbon. "We are leading by example and showcasing what a renewable energy future can look like in Utah."

Monday was more of a celebration of the 80-megawatt solar farm's existence, as the project was completed earlier this year. It reached commercial operation status by mid-May, according to its owner, D. E. Shaw Renewable Investments.

The energy produced by the farm is tacked onto the Rocky Mountain Power grid. Salt Lake City, Park City, Summit County, as well as Park City Mountain, Deer Valley Resort and Utah Valley University, are among the customers that signed 20- to 25-year power purchase agreements tied to energy the solar farm produces.

The agreements cover 80-85% of electricity needs for Salt Lake City's municipal-owned buildings and a little more than 90% of UVU's buildings.

"Despite a couple unexpected challenges, the determination of every partner here today has brought us to this incredible moment," Mendenhall added.

Salt Lake City Mayor Erin Mendenhall and other local officials join with industry members to open the Elektron Solar Project west of Grantsville in Tooele County on Monday.
Salt Lake City Mayor Erin Mendenhall and other local officials join with industry members to open the Elektron Solar Project west of Grantsville in Tooele County on Monday. (Photo: Scott G Winterton, Deseret News)

Planning started about five years ago, and it was initially expected to be completed in 2023 after ground broke in October 2021. The land project leaders picked for the project is managed by the Utah Trust Lands Administration and is a former Superfund site.

However, it hit snags along the way that nobody saw coming when the planning process began.

Troubles started a few months before the ground-breaking ceremony when U.S. Customs and Border Protection held up silicon-based products produced by or tied to Hoshine Silicon Industry Co. over labor ethics concerns. Reuters reported at the time that the company and its subsidiaries were "major manufacturers" of products needed to build solar panels.

Similar federal policies followed suit after construction began. In March 2022, U.S. Commerce Department officials started an investigation into whether solar panels reaching the U.S. from Southeast Asia were Chinese products illegally avoiding tariffs that the U.S. had imposed, which slowed down the solar market. The department ultimately announced last year that it found evidence to determine five of eight companies in southeast Asia were illegally circumventing Chinese products to avoid paying tariffs.

The Uyghur Forced Labor Prevention Act — a bill that generated nearly unanimous support from Congress before it was signed by President Joe Biden — also went into law while that investigation took place. This created penalties for any product coming into the U.S. from China's Xinjiang region unless the company could prove forced labor wasn't involved, which ultimately disrupted the solar market further.

Rising interest rates tacked onto supply chain shortages, creating more "headwinds" that project managers maneuvered around, said Hy Martin, chief development officer of D.E. Shaw.

Now complete, the solar farm helps several groups with ambitious goals to significantly cut or entirely offset carbon emissions in the coming decades.

For instance, Salt Lake City officials say the project is the largest step yet in the city's goal to have its grid sourced by 100% net renewable energy sources by 2030.

The Elektron Solar Project is pictured west of Grantsville in Tooele County on Monday.
The Elektron Solar Project is pictured west of Grantsville in Tooele County on Monday. (Photo: Scott G Winterton, Deseret News)

"Today's residents and future generations depend on our unshakable commitment to sustainability, and this project is about delivering on our promises of shaping a healthier future for everyone," Mendenhall said.

Others that signed power purchase agreements have similar goals. Deer Valley Resort officials say they also want to have 100% net renewable sources by 2030, while Park City Mountain officials note that they'd like to reach a "zero net operating footprint" by the end of the decade.

Val Peterson, UVU's vice president for administration and strategic relations, told KSL-TV in April that the solar farm is a key component to the school's goal to be carbon neutral by 2050.

"This project is a testament of our community's commitment to clean renewable energy and will power the city's operations, from buses to streetlights," Worel added.

The new solar farm will also have plenty of company this year.

D. E. Shaw's website notes that it has a few other Utah projects that it anticipates to have operational in 2024, adding 195 megawatts to the grid. It's also overseeing a project in central Utah that is expected to be completed next year, tacking on another 300 megawatts.

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Carter Williams is a reporter who covers general news, local government, outdoors, history and sports for KSL.com.

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