Southeast Utah’s abundant sunshine makes it an ideal place to turn that energy into electricity.
“Western Texas, New Mexico, Arizona—and a little part of Utah—are some of the best places to generate solar energy in the United States,” said Bill Hawley, a member of the Grand County Airport Board. “We’re in it.”
The Airport Board has been discussing the possibility of building a solar array to power the airport for several years, and at the Mar. 1 Grand County Commission meeting, Hawley presented some preliminary specifics of a potential solar project.
The goal of the project, Hawley said, would be to serve 100% of the airport’s electricity needs, including the terminal, the fire station and runway lights. That would reduce the airport’s carbon footprint—which Hawley said is the primary objective—but it would also reduce the airport’s power bill, which currently averages about $2,200 per month. Even if the airport produces as much power as it consumes, however, the bill will never be zero: in Rocky Mountain Power’s net metering rate structure, the company buys back surplus power from producers at a much lower rate than it sells power to consumers. The solar array would generate power on sunny days and send any excess power back to the grid, then have to buy that power back at night or on cloudy days. The proposed system would cover about 0.4 acres on airport property and provide an average of 21,000 kilowatt hours per month. Hawley noted that solar is a good fit for the airport, as it mostly uses electricity during daylight hours.
The project cost will depend on bids received and materials costs at the time that bids are requested. It will also depend on how the county decides to finance the project, if the county decides to pursue it. Hawley said the estimate ranges from $300,000 to $450,000, and there are several approaches the county might take to pay for it. The county could front the cost out of its own budget, which would likely be the least expensive option, though it would require a large up-front commitment. It would also be the fastest route to reducing the airport power bill. One disadvantage of this approach is that because the county is not a tax-paying entity, it is currently ineligible for federal rebates for solar installation, which can be of substantial value. If the Build Back Better Bill under consideration in Congress passes, it may include provisions that would allow Grand County to collect those federal rebates.
Another possibility is that the county could make an agreement with a company that would build the solar power system and sell power to the county at a set rate for a determined period of time, after which ownership of the solar array would transfer to the county. In another variation of this arrangement, the county would pre-pay a company in a similar agreement. The last suggestion Hawley presented was a sponsorship option, through which an company—likely one associated with outdoor recreation with an interest in Moab—would pay for the solar project and attach its brand name to it to boost its green profile.
Hawley said the next step is for the commission to help build a team of people to examine the options and determine the best approach.