BRIGHAM CITY -- An Arizona man believes he has come up with an innovative new design for a steel truss system that will easily allow solar panels to rotate with the sun. He is looking to Brigham City government to help him secure funding for a demonstration project.
According to LeRoy Paller, of Phoenix, he has a patent pending on a long-span solar truss system that will be designed and manufactured by Vulcraft. He is now asking Brigham City leaders to help him secure state and federal grant money for the construction.
"This is what it takes to make a successful launch of a new invention," Paller said. "Without an operating project, no one will take us seriously for another whole year, and I don't believe we should waste that year."
Paller gave a presentation to the Brigham City Council recently. He explained that a typical way to mount solar panels is to secure them to a set of long-span steel trusses in a way that creates open space below them. Paller said most trusses are strongest in the vertical position and must be adequately braced in that position to maintain that strength.
Instead of a vertical truss, Paller has come up with a triangular shaped LongSpan SolarTruss system that is strong enough to support the solar panels and allows the panels to rotate with the sun, increasing output by as much as 32 percent.
"The reason I came to Brigham City is because more than 40 years ago, I made a fortunate discovery," he said. "As a general contractor, I could buy steel trusses for my subcontractors, and they always turned out wonderful."
Paller said he has always remembered Vulcraft Nucor and their honest, straightforward manner of doing business. With that in mind, he has brought his project to Brigham City.
He has proposed three demonstration sites, each with six panels generating 100,000 watts of solar energy. Each one will provide shaded parking or storage space beneath the solar panels. If the project receives funding, there could be one system set up at Rees Pioneer Park in the field parking area, and one or two systems set up at Brigham City Airport.
Bruce Brothersen, the engineering manager at Vulcraft, said the company is thrilled with this idea.
"This has never been done before, and it is a new product, but the technology is proven," said Brothersen. "And all of the steel is Utah steel."
Paller estimates it will cost $1.8 million to build all three projects. He believes funding is available to the city under the American Recovery and Investment Act. However, just as ambitious is his suggested timeline: If the project is completed by late summer, it can be featured at SolarPower International, a solar trade show in Dallas in October.
"We are looking at a deadline," Paller said. "We want to present a working picture of what we have done here to the world. It is a state-of-the-art improvement, and it can be manufactured in this city by these citizens."
Brothersen said Nucor-Vulcraft has developed the triangular joist without any compensation. They too would like to see this funded with state or federal grants. However, after the city determines what grant money is available, Nucor-Vulcraft will re-evaluate and and see if there is something they can do to contribute to the cost.
Brigham City Council members were concerned about whether this project would provide enough energy to warrant the cost.
"It is virtually impossible to get any payback that would make sense to any businessman," Paller said. "The issue with solar is we don't need an army in some foreign country to protect our use of the sun, and nobody is going to have lung problems for using a solar project."
Paller also pointed out that the goal for this project is not necessarily to generate solar power for Utah, but to make sure that when other states are looking at solar power systems, they buy their trusses in Brigham City.
For now, the city has limited its participation with the use of the property for the project, and a pledge to help secure state or federal funding. However, many state and federal grants have some kind of match requirement, and the council agreed that a cash match would not be possible at this time. They are hopeful that use of city property could qualify as an in-kind match if required.
"We're just not sure where the money is going to come from," said City Administrator Bruce Leonard. "If times were different, if the economy was going in a different direction, (this project) would be more welcome. But it is a worthwhile project, and it will certainly be blazing a trail for the future."