Community Solar Program Makes Residential Solar Power Affordable

Aug 20, 2012

In an effort to expand the use of solar power in the state, Utah Clean Energy is offering Salt Lake homeowners a discount on solar panel installation. The Salt Lake Community Solar pilot program is the first of its kind in Utah and organizers hope the discounts promote residential solar use.

Across the U.S., communities are turning to solar power in an attempt to cut down on rising energy costs. Following this trend, Utah Clean Energy is offering discounted solar installation for the next month through its Salt Lake Community Solar pilot program.  Project Advisor Sarah Baldwin says the more people who participate in the program, the cheaper solar rates will be.

“It’s kind of the Groupon model for solar, you get enough numbers and you start to see economies of scale, and you start to maximize the efficiencies of the program.”

The program is modeled after a successful predecessor in Portland, Oregon that allows the public to purchase solar installation as a group, creating a lower installation rate, and making the electric to solar switch more affordable to the wider community.

“This is a really innovative model that communities can really take control over the process. And it also doesn’t require a change in policy it doesn’t require a change in regulation. Its very easy and we see it as very promising model that can take hold and hopefully bring more solar power to the people.”

Mark Davis, a member of the Salt Lake Solar Steering Committee, says the average cost for solar installation in Utah is about $6 dollars per watt, and adds that with most homes using more than 3,000 watts, installation can be very expensive. Davis says the discount program rates begin at just under $4 dollars per watt, and says the cost decreases as more participants join the program.

"The goal we would see with this reduced initial cost system is that the pay back period hopefully is within 10 to 15 years, at which point, you’re almost making money, not just saving money.”

So far just seven people have committed to the program. Davis says those who choose to participate are not only investing in their home, but also cutting their potential energy costs dramatically.

“The goal is that as an individual user of solar power you are in effect reducing your power bill, and some people can size their systems such that they can completely eliminate their power bill.”

Salt Lake’s Gardner Engineering is the contractor in charge of the solar installations. Between now and September 21 those who commit to installing a solar system through Salt Lake Community Solar will be eligible for the discount, which can be 30 to 40 % off regular installation costs.