Residents in Utah have joined programs aimed at lowering the cost of solar installations.
“Solar has grown very quickly especially in the last three to five years,” said Kate Bowman, Solar Project Coordinator for Utah Clean Energy, a public interest organization. “Looking back to 2009, on average Utah’s cumulative solar capacity—so the total amount of solar in the state—has increased by 82 percent each year. So that’s almost doubling each year since 2009.”
Bowman said solar power costs have been decreasing in recent years, but there are also other factors leading to increased solar power.
“It’s a combination of a couple different things. Partly just that the cost of solar has fallen so dramatically in the last couple years and also that there’s growing interest in using clean, renewable energy to power your home or your business,” Bowman said. “It also reflects that we do have really good policies in place that make it possible for people to access clean energy.”
In several Utah cities and counties, community solar programs have brought solar panel installation at lower costs. In April in Cache County, a group called the Cache Clean Air Consortium negotiated lower prices with installation company Gardner Energy. The program relies on multiple people purchasing solar installation in order to offer a bulk price.
According to Ken Gardner, owner of Gardner Energy, programs like this have advantages for his business and for residents.
“The community program is an opportunity for residents to come as a group and apply and sign contracts,” Gardner said. “We can install it at a lower rate because we’re not out doing marketing. We’re not doing sales and we’re purchasing for a larger group. So that’s the advantage of a group program.”
Gardner Energy has participated in similar programs in Salt Lake, Weber, Morgan and Davis Counties.
“The first public hearing we had here in Weber County we had 150 people come. The second, we had another 150 people. Right now I think 150 of those 300 people have expressed an interest in going solar. So we’ve been out doing site visits and preparing preliminary designs and proposals for those people.”
A recent public workshop with Gardner Energy at the Logan City Library did not come close to having that many people. About a dozen residents attended to learn about the solar discount program and apply for a home estimate.
Nancy Bartelt attended and said she and her husband were looking for ways to be more energy efficient.
“We live in Providence right now and we’re downsizing. And so we thought we’d try to build a retirement home that would be more energy efficient” Bartelt said. “I just think this is an exciting time for people to take advantage of energy savings.”
Emily Malik, Conservation Coordinator for Logan City Light and Power said she’s seen an increase in solar panel installations in Logan.
“It’s been slow, but kind of steady—maybe one or two installations a year,” Malick said. “But now, with this program, I think we’re seeing several more installations. So it’s kind of interesting.”
In an effort to provide solar to customers without requiring them to install solar panels on their own homes, Logan City Light and Power has created a community solar program and has installed solar panels and sold shares of the output power. Those who have bought one of the 100 kilowatt-hour shares pay for part of their energy bill at a fixed rate.
“They buy 100 kwh at a solar share rate and I think that rate stays with them for 20 years, so even if the other rates go up and change, this 100 kwh block will stay at, I want to say it’s 12 cents a kwh for the next 20 years. We’ve had 30 shares available from our initial installation and we’ve sold all of those. So right now we’re taking a waiting list for a second installation and I think we’ll start that installation in the near future.”
Bowman said that with all Utah’s growing interest in solar, there is still a long way to go.
“Utah is one of the sunniest states in the country so we have a really great solar resource,” Bowman said. “We do have one of the best solar resources in the country and currently states like California and Hawaii have much higher penetrations of Solar. Utah is still a growing solar market. So we have less than 1 percent of all our electricity comes from solar. So that means there’s still a lot of untapped potential to really take advantage of the resource Utah has.”