Because local governments are on the frontlines of responding to the impacts of a warming climate — including extreme heat, wildfires, poor air quality, drought, flooding, and more — Salt Lake City leaders have prioritized taking action to reduce our emissions that contribute to climate change.
In 2016, City leaders established several municipal and community goals, described in our Climate Positive 2040 roadmap, to reduce carbon emissions and support the development of renewable energy.
This includes the goal of achieving net-50% renewable electricity for municipal operations by 2020 and net-100% by 2030.
To achieve our municipal goal, Salt Lake City worked for several years on an agreement with five other large electricity customers and Rocky Mountain Power to develop and purchase electricity generation from the Elektron Solar Project, an 80 Megawatt (MW) solar farm that will be built in Tooele County. This project will provide renewable electricity for Salt Lake City government buildings and operations.
Of the six participating customers, Salt lake City is the largest electricity consumer, and roughly half the energy produced by the solar farm will support the City’s municipal operations.
At present, roughly 14% of electricity consumed by City government buildings and operations comes from renewable sources. Once the Elektron Solar Project is up and running, that number is expected increase by 35-95%, likely exceeding the 50% renewable energy goal.
On behalf of the six customers, Rocky Mountain Power contracted with renewable developer DE Shaw Renewable Investments (DESRI) to construct the Elektron project, and on October 19, 2021, Salt Lake City and the other customers commemorated the official groundbreaking of the 80 MW solar farm.
Salt Lake City and the five other participating customers expected the solar farm to come online as soon as December 31, 2022 and no later than Mach 31, 2023.
Unfortunately, three unexpected challenges arose, preventing the solar farm from achieving commercial operations by March 31st.
- The first barrier arose in June of 2021 when US Customs and Border Protection issued a Withhold Release Order on silicon-based products made by or derived from a large Chinese company. United States imports from LONGi, one of the largest utility-scale solar panel manufacturers in the world and the original manufacturer of panels for the Elektron project, was significantly impacted. LONGi panels were detained at the border, and in response, LONGi halted panel production for and shipments to the US for an extended time.
- In late March of 2022, the second barrier surfaced as the U.S. Commerce Department announced an investigation into whether solar panels imported from Southeast Asian countries are of Chinese origin. If so, they would be illegally avoiding the tariffs placed on Chinese solar panels LONGI and other Southeast Asian panel manufacturers — who collectively account for more than 80% of all US solar panel imports — further halted solar panel production for US projects. Subsequently, in August of 2023, the U.S. Commerce Department determined that “certain Chinese producers are shipping their solar products through Cambodia, Malaysia, Thailand, and/or Vietnam … in an attempt to avoid paying antidumping and countervailing duties.” Vina Solar, a subsidiary of LONGI, was found to be circumventing.
- The third and most recent barrier emerged in late June of 2022 when the Uyghur Forced Labor Prevention Act took effect. This Act makes a presumption that all imports related to China’s Xinjiang region were produced with forced labor unless detailed sourcing documentation can prove otherwise. Although panel manufacturers were well aware the Act was coming, many were surprised by the high level of supply chain tracing required. As a result, solar panel shipments to the US by LONGi and other major solar panel manufacturers were further disrupted.
The Current Status
Salt Lake City and the other five customers expressed to Rocky Mountain Power and DESRI a willingness to accommodate these significant delays if the previously agreed price would not change. DESRI identified a different panel manufacturer and Rocky Mountain Power and DESRI are working to amend the contract to allow the Elektron Solar Project to come online later at the previously agreed price.
We are thrilled to finally have a finish line in sight, as we now expect the Elektron Solar Project to be up and running by July 2024.