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 patricipating 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, making it unlikely for DESRI to be able to achieve commercial operations by March 31st.
- The first barrier arose in June of 2021 when the 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 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. Although there has been no finding of wrongdoing, LONGI and all 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.
- The third and most recent barrier emerged in late June of 2022 when the Uyghur Forced Labor Prevention Act took effect. This Act requires companies to provide evidence that forced labor in China’s Xinjiang region was not used to create imported goods. Although panel manufacturers were well aware the Act was coming, many were suprised 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, and these disruptions may not be resolved for months.
The Current Status
In June of 2022, President Biden and the White House reported two actions to help lift some of the burden caused by the U.S. Commerce Department’s investigation, including a two year tariff exemption for solar panels from four southeast Asian nations and extensions of time and duty-free importation of solar products from Southeast Asia.
But major challenges remain that make it unlikely the Elektron Solar Project will reach commercial operation by March 31, 2023.
As Salt Lake City and the other five customers await further developments, we have expressed to Rocky Mountain Power and DESRI that completing the project under the agreed upon price takes priority over timing. As a result, Rocky Mountain Power and DESRI are currently discussing a contract amendment that would allow the Elektron Solar Project to come online later — possibly by the end of 2023 — at the current price.
Salt Lake City is doing everything we can to navigate these international challenges facing the solar industry. We’re committed to seeing this project toward successful completion.