Gen. Martin E. Dempsey, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, will visit Tooele Army Depot on Friday to help break ground on an $8.7 million solar power project that will help the Utah depot produce its own power.
It's the first time since Gen. Dwight D. Eisenhower visited in the 1940s that such a high-ranking official as been to the Tooele installation, said spokeswoman Kathy Anderson.
Depot commander Col. Christopher O. Mohan extended an invitation to the groundbreaking when he learned Dempsey would be in Utah for other engagements, Anderson said.
According to a spokesman for Dempsey, the chairman will meet privately with business and community leaders while in the state that day.
He will be joined in Tooele by Katherine Hammack, assistant secretary of the Army for installations, energy and the environment.
While Dempsey's presence signals the Department of Defense's emphasis on renewable energy, the project is a big deal for another reason.
It will be one of the larger solar power installations in Utah, and will mean a 15 percent increase in the state's solar generating capacity.
Taken together, all Utah solar power producers, including homes and larger ones such as those at the Calvin L. Rampton Salt Palace Convention Center and Draper's Ikea store, have the capacity to produce 10 megawatts of electricity, said Sara Baldwin, senior policy and regulatory associate for the nonprofit Utah Clean Energy. That's enough to power several thousand homes.
"We commend the leadership of the depot and the whole military," said Baldwin.
Tom Turner, garrison manager for Tooele Army Depot, said construction should begin this fall to erect the 430 dish-like solar collectors, and electricity should be flowing by next summer.
The array is expected to provide 30 percent of the depot's electricity, as is a wind turbine built in 2010. Both will have a 1.5 megawatt capacity, enough to provide power to 300 to 400 homes. The turbine has had some "bugs," but soon should be producing at full capacity, he said.
The Department of Defense has a goal of building renewable energy projects that can produce 1 gigawatt of electricity by 2025. A gigawatt is 1,000 megawatts. Tooele Army Depot is among 17 installations where pilot renewable energy projects are under way as part of a Net Zero program.
The goal is to have each of those installations produce as much power as they use, which Turner said will happen at Tooele within a decade through a combination of wind and solar power, conservation, and conversion of old furnaces to natural gas and electricity.
The solar array will go in an energy corridor not far from the depot's administrative offices on the outskirts of Tooele, Turner said. The wind turbine is also in that corridor.
Unlike many solar projects around the country, Tooele's will use a technology that relies on dish-like collectors with Stirling engines.
"We believe it's a better alternative to the other types of solar panels," said Turner. "We think we can produce more electricity for the money."
The Army Corps of Engineers, which is acting as construction manager for the project, has not yet signed a contract, but Tooele Army Depot identified the contractor as Infinia, an Ogden-based company led by Mike Ward, former president of Autoliv Americas.
About Tooele Army Depot
The depot covers 24,000 acres on the west side of Tooele, and is the only government depot west of the Mississippi that stores, ships and removes explosives from such ammunition as land mines and bombs. It also designs and manufactures equipment for handling the ammunition. It has 550 civilian employees, and hosts 97 tenant and 60 contractor employees. Historically, the depot maintained large vehicles for the Army, but that mission ended in the mid-1990s.