More than six stories above ground, a field of glass soaks in the sun’s rays, producing electricity and promising more energy development for the nation’s fifth-sunniest state.
On Wednesday, a passel of state and local leaders gathered, indoors, to note the installation of 2,700 solar panels atop the Vivint Smart Home Arena, home to the Utah Jazz, whose fandom could easily be considered the next-dominant religion in the Beehive State.
But it wasn’t a three-point shot that brought Utah Gov. Gary Herbert, a Republican, or Salt Lake County Mayor Ben McAdams, a Democrat, to a meeting room atop the arena. It was those solar panels, which promise to generate enough electricity per year to power 89 Jazz home games.
While Utah is among the top five states when it comes to sunny days, Salt Lake City ranks near the bottom in air quality. Herbert said the state has 18 “red burning days” a year, when air quality limits are exceeded, versus only seven such days per year for Los Angeles, California.
Those bad air days vex residents, particularly during winter when air inversions trap pollution in the atmosphere. Cutting pollution is important, but Herbert said that for a state traditionally tied to coal and some oil production, the economic promise of solar also shines bright.
“The fastest growing energy sector in the state is solar,” Herbert said, noting Utah expects to add 450 megawatts of solar power in the coming years.
Noting that the county-owned Salt Palace Convention Center has its own solar array, McAdams said the teaming of Utah-based firms Vivint Solar, contractor Hunt Electricand the Larry H. Miller Group, which owns both the arena and the Jazz, is a “win-win-win for all of us.”
Though there was no scoreboard at the event, the environmental impact was widely discussed. Those panels populate much of the 80,000 square feet of the arena’s roof, and will generate 700 kilowatts of electricity. During an estimated 25-year lifespan, the panels will save the equivalent of auto emissions from 37 million miles of driving, and produce the same amount of electricity as 1 million pounds of coal, officials said.
Arena President Jim Olson said the solar installation was a key first step in the $125 million renovation of the facility. By 2017, the interior and exterior will have undergone substantial change.
Herbert said the upgrades are expected to generate $173 million in economic benefit for the community.
Though a separate company from Vivint Smart Home, Vivint Solar still benefitted from its roots in the firm that bought the naming rights to the arena.
David Bywater, Vivint Solar’s interim CEO of six months, said he was “so proud of what has been accomplished” with the installation, even if most of the public won’t see the actual panels atop the structure.
“It’s the right thing to do,” Bywater said of bringing solar energy to the arena. He added that the Miller group of companies has now “set an example” for people all over the state.
And despite a regional setback in Nevada, where Vivint Solar dropped operations in the face of net metering restrictions, Bywater said that with 90 percent of Americans in favor of solar energy, “it bodes well for solar and our growth going forward.”