A new 80-megawatt solar farm in Box Elder County will supply energy to several Utah cities across the state.

The project, called Steel Solar, consists of more than 200,000 solar panels. Engineers with SOLV Energy said it sits on about 900 acres off Interstate 15.

“They get a little radio signal from our operations center that’s based out of San Diego, so there’s antennas all over, kind of connected up to the rows,” said Luke Derby, project superintendent. “Computers from San Diego put everything on a timer and radio gets sent out and the rows kind of turn as the sun kind of moves throughout the day.”

Steel Solar is national developer D.E. Shaw Renewable Investments’ latest project in Utah.

“We’re around seven or eight projects, which is a huge investment over many years, five or six, seven years we’ve committed to investment in this state,” said Hy Martin, chief development officer.

Cities around the state

The nearly 600 acres of solar panels supply energy to 20 cities: Blanding, Bountiful, Ephraim, Fairview, Fillmore, Heber Light & Power, Hurricane, Hyrum, Lehi, Logan, Morgan, Mt. Pleasant, Paragonah, Payson, Price, Santa Clara, Springville, South Utah Valley Electric Service District, St. George and Washington.

Each city belongs to the Utah Associated Municipal Power Systems, or UAMPS. CEO and General Manager Mason Baker said 20 of its 50 members chose to go solar.

“Solar like this will be generating as peak load happens in the summer, so that’s when our electric demand on the system is at its highest,” Baker said.

He said the project will only operate about 30% of the time in a given year.

DESRI’s solar farm in Tooele, called the Elektron Solar, recently started producing power for Salt Lake City, Park City, some ski resorts and Utah Valley University.

Baker said customers at home won’t notice a difference.

“As far as the overall resource mix, it’s still a somewhat small portion of it,” he said.

Withstanding the weather

Derby said the solar panels can withstand harsh weather.

“If there’s too much snow that builds up on the top of them, they can send the signal to tilt them all and dump the snow,” he said.

He said they last about 25 to 35 years.

“Once a year, they’ll go through like a little like maintenance check, but for the most part, we work out all the bugs in construction so this should run pretty smooth for the next 5 to 10 years,” Derby said.

Half of the panels are one-sided. The other half are bifacial.

“It takes some of the sunlight that reflects off the ground or the snow,” Derby said.

Baker said while panels are low cost, they’re one resource many Utahns rely on.

“We need to have a diverse set of resources, whether they’re renewable, we see a place for natural gas,” he said. “We still have coal within our resource portfolio, that will be there for a while.”

Martin said the panels are more cost-effective.

“What we have found typically across our fleet is we’re able to produce energy at a lower rate than older, less effective coal plants,” he said.

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He said Steel Solar’s capital costs were in the $100 million range. UAMPS’s member communities pay for the power once it comes online.

“When the project actually declares COD and starts producing energy, the member communities of UAMPS pay us for that power, that renewable power that we produce from the project for the next 25 years,” Martin said.

The developer will own and operate these solar farms long-term.

“We are looking to basically develop and build clean energy projects wherever we can, and we think Utah is looking toward the future and we want to meet that demand with certainly future clean energy developments,” Martin said.

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