Solar Salt Lake: Large PV Installations in the Queue

Salt Lake City:  home of the 2002 Winter Olympics, Rowland-Hall St. Mark’s School, the U of U, a highly evolved food culture, and if Utah Clean Energy (UCE) has anything to do with it, Utah will be home to some significant solar installations.

On a gorgeous August morning, I met Sara Baldwin, Senior Policy and Regulatory Associate for UCE, for coffee and to find out how solar is faring in a state of 2.2 million, most of who live along the Wasatch Front (north) and the St. George area (south). Sara manages the Solar Salt Lake Partnership project as part of the U.S. Department of Energy’s Solar America Cities Initiative.  Its ambitious goals, like developing a fully-scoped city and county-level implementation plan for at least 10MW of new solar PV installations in all sectors by 2015 (that’s an additional 10K solar PV systems), will be a challenge; Utah is a state where electricity costs are among the lowest in the country.

“The Implementation Plan is being finalized, and will be released in September,” said Baldwin.  “A diverse group of stakeholders worked hard on this, addressing key issues and barriers to solar, and offering regulatory, policy, and other creative solutions to those barriers.  The Plan draws from feedback from three different solar workshops, explores why people in Utah aren’t choosing solar today, and what will help them choose solar in the future.”  According to Baldwin, the Plan will feature a broad spectrum of measures to increase the amount of solar in Salt Lake County and drive market transformation for sustainable market success.

Part of that sustainable market success is to reach a statewide goal of 20% renewables by 2025. Rocky Mountain Power (RMP) is Utah’s only investor-owned utility and serves 80 percent of the state. Currently, about 4.5% of RMP’s portfolio serving Utah comes from renewable energy sources, but that includes power sources from across RMP’s six-state service territory.  “There aren’t any interim targets,” said Baldwin, “and there are plenty of holes to wiggle through, but there are lots of people in Utah who are very interested in making the 20% by 2025 happen.”

30kW PV installation on the roof of a low-income apartment historic building in downtown Salt Lake City that feature 1-kW/unit.

By all accounts, Solar Salt Lake’s Phase 1 was very successful. “IREC’s Keyes & Fox played such an important role in Phase 1 with their expertise in regulatory issues (i.e., interconnection, net metering),” said Baldwin.  “As Solar Salt Lake enters Phase 2, IREC will continue to be a key partner, helping Utah as we explore innovative financing options, including 3rd party financing, PPA’s, FIT’s, and how to make them work well here. And we’re looking to IREC, with Jason Keyes, Joe Wiedman and Kevin Fox, for their expertise on community solar, including bulk purchasing programs and lease options.  We really want to explore how you get the entire community to buy into it.”

Though Utah doesn’t have PACE provisions, Salt Lake County will be rolling out a pilot low interest loan program for energy efficiency and renewable energy for residential and commercial entities in the County. “It’s a pilot program designed to demonstrate demand and viability of such a loan program,” said Baldwin.  “We’ve already held financing workshops with the financing community to identify barriers and help them understand these new financing mechanisms. It’s our goal to demonstrate that these new strategies are good business models.”  Good business models, indeed.  More financing opportunities mean more money available to consumers, which means more demand for installations, which translates to busy installers and more local jobs and economic activity.

Back in April, the Utah State Energy Program began accepting applications for a stimulus-funded rebate program.  Of the $39M allocated to the State from ARRA funding for all energy activities, $3M was dedicated (and split) between PV, solar water heating and wind, with separate allocations for residential and non-residential applicants.  By June, all the money allocated for non-residential PV and residential wind was spoken for.  “There’s a little bit of money left for residential PV,” said Baldwin.  “In fact, some Utah Clean Energy employees are getting bids for solar on their own homes – right now is a great time to invest in solar”

30kW PV installation on the roof of a low-income apartment historic building in downtown Salt Lake City that feature 1-kW/unit.

Using more ARRA funding, Utah’s State Energy Program is currently offering solar PV grants to corporate and non-profits in Utah for projects at least 200kW in generating capacity (DC rated nameplate).  Gross installation costs must be less than $8.00/Watt (and applicants must provide cost share for the remainder).  Deadline for these solar grants (RGA # AR11019) is September 7th.  Applicants need to register on BidSync (for details, contact a BidSync representative at 800.990.9339, or email Elise Brown).

For the moment, some 300kW of solar PV (residential and commercial) is installed in Salt Lake County.  But large installations for Salt Lake County facilities are on the horizon.  “In September, Salt Lake County will hold a press conference to announce the state’s largest solar project — it is expected to be at least 1 MW, if not higher; this project will be located on the Salt Palace Convention Center in downtown Salt Lake City.  In addition, the Utah Museum of Natural History, currently under construction, will also have a large solar PV installation—in the hundreds of kilowatts. Both of these projects plan to utilize third-party financing, which is possible because of a bill passed during Utah’s 2010 legislative session.”

ARRA funding will also solarize Utah’s schools.  Each of Utah’s 76 school districts will have a small solar PV system with a curriculum component.  A local contractor has already been selected for this project.

Lastly, a community solar project in St. George, SunSmart, will grow to 150kW (up from 100kW), ultimately topping out at 250kW.  “The community can buy shares at $4/watt and net meter as if it were on their roof,” said Baldwin.    “But, this project has run into some challenges in getting buy-in from the local community – we are hoping to better understand this project so future projects can be successful from the get-go.”

For more information about Solar Salt Lake, or Utah Clean Energy, contact Sara Baldwin.


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