From Shakespeare to Solar?

EDCUtah url 516 206With more than $1.2 billion in capital investments underway, the sun is smiling on Iron County. In fact, the home of the world renowned, Tony Award-winning Utah Shakespeare Festival is quickly becoming a center for…

…utility-scale solar power development and production.

While the new Beverly Taylor Sorensen Center for the Arts – the new home of the Utah Shakespeare Festival – is just weeks away from completion, 17 utility-scale solar projects are also in various stages of completion throughout the county and the combined capital investment in those projects totals more than $1.2 billion, says Daniel Stewart, director of the Cedar City – Iron County Office of Economic Development.

It’s no surprise that the festival has been an enormous economic driver in Iron County for more than five decades. And now, with the new center for the arts and its auxiliary theatre, office space, costume shop and other exciting additions, area residents anxiously await an extended festival season along with its additional economic benefits for the county and Utah’s “Festival City.” Centralized on two city blocks adjacent to Southern Utah University, the Beverly Taylor Sorenson Center for the Arts moves the activities of the Shakespeare Festival and the Southern Utah Museum of Arts even closer to Cedar City’s historic downtown. To be sure, there’s no throwing shade on the city’s status as a center for the arts.

What might come as a surprise is the fact that Iron County is an excellent resource for utility-scale solar power generation. Stewart says the county’s high altitude, cooler temperatures, wide open spaces and more than 300 sunny days annually make it an efficient location for solar power generation. Using community development areas (CDAs), the county created a dozen project areas to enable and incentivize the solar projects. Although solar power generation is not a job creator, the construction involved has created hundreds of jobs and the capital investment is huge, Stewart explains.

“The capital investment and construction jobs were the primary reasons the county chose to move forward with the projects,” he continues. Nine of the 12 solar projects are smaller and will generate three megawatts each, but the others involve 50, 80 and 100 megawatt projects.

The Utah Red Hills Renewable Park near Parowan was the state’s first utility-scale solar farm to come online. Built by the Norwegian firm Scatec Solar, the farm’s 340,700 photovoltaic panels are capable of generating 210 million kilowatt hours of power each year – enough to power approximately 18,500 homes. Stewart says all of the projects will be connected to the grid and the 717 megawatts of power they generate will be purchased by Rocky Mountain Power.

But Shakespeare and solar power aren’t the only exciting things taking shape in Iron County. Stewart says the Southwest Applied Technology College just moved into a new facility, which has allowed the college to expand its health services program and open a new culinary arts program. Meanwhile, its welding facility is “tops in the state” and continues to attract students. Stewart is mum about another exciting development that will be announced next week, but says the increased momentum in workforce training partnerships between area manufacturers and the Southwest Applied Technology College and Southern Utah University has been significant. In fact, the training programs have become a critical asset in the area’s workforce development.

“The schools help us in a lot of different industries, from health care to industrial manufacturing to tourism,” he adds.