A huge new Utah solar farm could power half a million homes. It will fuel Facebook and Instagram instead.

Mark Zuckerberg’s Meta will draw electricity from 1.3 million solar panels in a remote corner of Utah County.

(Rick Egan | The Salt Lake Tribune) Piles have been driven in for about 30% of a huge solar farm under construction near Fairfield on Tuesday, Dec. 19, 2023. The piles eventually will hold rows of solar panels that will pivot with the sun to generate power for Facebook parent company Meta.

This story is part of The Salt Lake Tribune’s ongoing commitment to identify solutions to Utah’s biggest challenges through the work of the Innovation Lab.

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It’s on a scale unseen in Utah. Five square miles of solar panels – 1.3 million panels total.

As the sun passes over, the panels will pivot with it, generating 673 megawatts of electricity as the fifth largest electricity source in the state — and Utah’s largest solar farm by more than 200 megawatts.

Excelsior Energy Capital recently acquired the huge Faraday Solar Project under construction in the southwest corner of Utah County, and it has put together $1.3 billion in financing to finish it.

When it starts generating electricity in the third quarter of 2025, it could power up to a half million homes, but it won’t. Instead, all the power will all go to Meta through a deal with Rocky Mountain Power/PacifiCorp, and it will be used to serve millions of Facebook and Instagram posts.

“The project will support our data centers on the PacifiCorp grid in Utah and Oregon,” said Meta spokesperson Melanie Roe.

(Rick Egan | The Salt Lake Tribune) Bundles of torque tubes line the roads at the Faraday solar farm under construction near Fairfield on Tuesday, Dec. 19, 2023.

The Faraday project is located on about 3,200 acres south of Fairfield on private land — some owned by Excelsior and some acquired in long-term leases.

Some Fairfield residents have complained about potential solar projects closer to the small town of about 160 people, but this project is farther away. Fairfield Mayor Brad Gurney said the town’s main concern with the project is traffic. The 1.3 million panels, along with a lot of other materials, are coming in a constant stream of trucks.

“That’s a lot of traffic for our little community,” said Gurney, who added that no one has briefed him on the plans. “We’re just picking up bits and pieces from other places.”

He also said the town doesn’t see an upside from the project. “For us, it’s all downside. We have to repair the road, but we don’t get any financing or additional money.”

Gabriel Wuebben, head of capital markets for Excelsior Energy Capital, said the project currently employs about 200 people. Most of the work at this point involves driving piles into the ground. Racks will be mounted on the piles, and solar panels will be mounted on the racks. When the panels are being installed, the labor force will rise to around 350 or 400, he said.

(Rick Egan | The Salt Lake Tribune) Pyles at the solar farm near Fairfield, on Tuesday, Dec. 19, 2023.

Wuebben said the project currently doesn’t receive any financial incentives from the state of Utah, but he didn’t rule it out. “There is a state production tax credit, and that is something we’re examining.”

He also said the project currently does not include any battery storage, but that could come later.

Even financing the $1.3 billion project was an outsized global effort with 13 banks in six countries.

“It’s probably the largest deal that will close in solar this year,” said Wuebben, who arranged the complicated financing deal that includes Excelsior’s recent purchase of the project from Parasol and Clenera, the companies that started it.

The participating banks include Missouri-based US Bancorp Impact Finance, which partnered with Excelsior on a $400-million solar production tax credit partnership. UFG, a Japanese bank, and Nord/LB, a German bank, are providing a $460-million loan, a $300-million bridge loan and $125 million in other financing.

Jointly arranging the financing were CIBC (Canada), DNB (Norway), the National Bank of Canada, Société Générale (France), Sumitomo Mitsue Banking Corporation (Japan) and Utah’s Zions Bank. Also participating in financing are Sumitomo Mitsui Trust Bank (Japan), Associated Bank (Wisconsin) and Comerica (Ohio).

The four Utah power sources that are larger than Faraday are Rocky Mountain Power’s Hunter (1,320 megawatts) and Huntington (1,073 megwatts) coal-fired plants in Emery County, Rocky Mountain’s 1,100-megawatt natural gas-fired Lakeside Power Station in Vineyard and the Intermountain Power Plant in Delta, which is converting to an 860-megawatt natural gas and hydrogen-powered plant in 2025.

Utah-based rPlus Energies last year announced that it is building what then was to be Utah’s largest solar farm in Emery County, a 400-megawatt facility with another 200 megawatts of onsite lithium storage.

The 802-megawatt Copper Mountain Solar Facility in Boulder City, Nev., is the largest solar farm in the United States. The three biggest solar farms in the world are in China and India, and they’re all over 2,000 megawatts.

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