December 3, 2008

Solar Salt Lake: Scampering Towards 10MW of Solar by 2015

Solar Salt Lake, a 2007 Solar America City, is an extension of work started by Utah Clean Energy, Salt Lake City, and Salt Lake County, through a DOE Million Solar Roofs grant. The goal of the Solar Salt Lake program is impressive: to develop a fully-scoped city- and county-level implementation plan that will result in…

Solar Salt Lake, a 2007 Solar America City, is an extension of work started by Utah Clean Energy, Salt Lake City, and Salt Lake County, through a DOE Million Solar Roofs grant. The goal of the Solar Salt Lake program is impressive: to develop a fully-scoped city- and county-level implementation plan that will result in at least ten megawatts of new photovoltaic (PV) installations in the government, commercial, industrial, and residential sectors by 2015.

With roughly 40% of Utah’s 2,500,000 residents living within the boundaries of Salt Lake City and Salt Lake County, coupled with the area’s excellent solar resources, the solar implementation plan has the potential to significantly impact the development of solar energy in the state of Utah. With such an aggressive plan, what strategies will Solar Salt Lake use to attain 10MW of solar in only seven years?

10 MW of solar within seven years?

“It’s aggressive to be sure,” said Kelly Knutsen, Ph.D., and Senior Policy Associate for Utah Clean Energy, “but completely doable. We’re identifying barriers, conducting research and developing policies and regulations that will move solar into a number of applications, like new housing developments, solar financing models and education and outreach. We have solid commitment from our partners, which helps the project run smoothly.” Utah Clean Energy is the technical partner for Solar Salt Lake.

Besides Utah Clean Energy, Kennecott Land (a subsidiary of Kennecott Copper) and Rocky Mountain Power, comprise an intriguing group of partners.

I used to live in Salt Lake City, and remember Kennecott Copper across the valley at the base of the Oquirrh Mountains. What’s Kennecott Land?

Kennecott Land owns over 40 percent of the developable land in Salt Lake County, including the Daybreak Community in South Jordan. “It was an opportunity to target solar in one of the largest growing areas of the County by incorporating solar development into Kennecott Land’s existing energy efficiency and sustainable community development plans,” said Knutsen.

Kennecott Land is currently purchasing enough renewable energy to offset the entirety of the electricity used to power its operations through Rocky Mountain Power’s Blue Sky Renewable Energy program. To encourage homeowners to follow suit, for the first 400 Daybreak households that buy two blocks of renewable energy per month, Kennecott Land will buy an additional two blocks on their behalf for 12 consecutive months.

As a Solar Salt Lake Partner, Kennecott Land worked with four builders and Consol (with the U.S. Department of Energy’s Building America Program) to design and build four high-performance homes in their Daybreak community, which debuted at the 2008 Salt Lake Parade of Homes and received nearly 4,000 visitors during the Parade. Two of the homes feature active and passive solar technologies.

Kennecott Land also installed 25 kilowatts of solar PV on its newly constructed corporate center.

I hate to ask, but has the current economic slowdown had an effect on the construction schedule?

“Sadly, yes,” said Knutsen. “We’re still hoping to have solar integrated into one or more of their next villages, but the slowing economy is impacting Utah’s building community. So, we are focussing on workforce development and training, building retrofit initiatives, and education to the building community about solar energy. This will give us time to prepare for the successful integration of solar in future construction.”

Rocky Mountain Power’s support of Salt Lake Solar includes funding of community-based solar projects through its Blue Sky Fund Award Program, including directly supporting the 25 kW solar installation on the Clark Planetarium in Salt Lake County and a pending solar development in Salt Lake City.

Identifying and removing barriers to solar and developing a plan to implement it in Salt Lake City and Salt Lake County is an all hands-on-deck endeavor.

“Salt Lake City is investigating solar-friendly codes, and Salt Lake County has performed a technical evaluation study of all of the county’s buildings to determine the feasibility of solar PV and solar water heating of installing solar on the County’s major facilities,” said Knutsen. “In addition, Salt Lake County has performed a financial study to explore ways to finance those solar installations.”

Utah Clean Energy (UCE), which directs the Solar Salt Lake Program, provides support to all partners and works on pertinent solar policy and utility regulatory initiatives, such as net metering and interconnection issues. UCE and its partners have been instrumental in helping Utah improve its existing net metering bill, increasing the cap for commercial scale solar from 25 kW to 2 MW, improving provisions for residential systems, advocating for proper valuation of excess kilowatt hours, and supporting model interconnection standards.

It also collaborates on solar educational efforts, including the Utah Solar Tour 2008 and a solar website and mapping project with CH2M Hill. Solar Salt Lake has hosted two solar workshops for policy makers, regulatory officials, the building community, solar professionals, local governments, the financial community, and academia. These workshops have helped partners identify the key barriers and strategies to achieving the Solar Salt Lake goal of 10 MW by 2015.

With all this activity, how is the partnership dealing with solar workforce education and training?

“We helped implement Utah’s first solar PV installer course at Salt Lake Community College (SLCC), in partnership with SLCC, the Utah Solar Energy Association (UtSEA), the State Energy Program (SEP), and Solar Energy International. In August 2008, the Solar Salt Lake Partners (in partnership with SLCC, UtSEA, and SEP) hosted two comprehensive NEC/Solar PV trainings, taught by solar code expert, John Wiles of the Southwest Technology Development Institute at New Mexico State University. The two trainings (held in Salt Lake City and St. George) were attended by over over 400 code officials, inspectors, PV installers and electricians.

Yeow. What about the community solar project in St. George? Is that an SSL project?

“No. That project is the inspiration of St. George Municipal Energy Services so they deserve the credit for their work. But SAI partners helped with technical support for the tax credit that allowed the residents to buy into the system while still taking advantage of a personal state tax credit. We’re very excited and supportive of this project and will be looking to model this project as we work on our efforts through our SAI grant — it’s a unique way to approach solar in Utah and other municipalities in Utah could potentially use the same model to develop PV in their county,” said Knutsen.

The current economic downturn has far-reaching tentacles, and if financing wasn’t dicey before, it’s really dicey now.

“Financing is one of the largest barriers to effectively adopting solar in any location, and Salt Lake City and County are no exceptions,” says Knutsen. “Through the technical assistance from the DOE we plan to explore residential solar financing options, from an educational piece of what is already out there to potential new programs that could be adopted to assist residents with putting solar on their property. We’re also looking at other creative ways to encourage solar through model codes and advocating for best practices in net metering and interconnection. The current economic downturn adds certainly creates new challenges and we are coming up with creative ways to reach our 10 MW goal by 2015.”

“Still, I’ve been surprised at how much we have been able to accomplish in such a short amount of time. It’s been wonderful working with all of our partners, including those not formally involved in the partnership. There is tremendous enthusiasm for this project among the partners and the community at large, which really keeps the project moving forward. It has certainly been a learning curve as we discover and work to address the numerous barriers to solar; but, in doing so, we are fostering a broad support for solar in Utah.”

“It feels like we’ve covered a lot of ground over the past year; it’s an exciting prospect for the future,” said Knutsen.

I’ll say.