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Resurrecting rooftop solar, Utah’s once dying industry

Utah Senate Bill 245 would help solar companies stay in the state

Solar panels cover Glenn Lamson’s garage in his backyard in Salt Lake City on Monday, Nov. 2, 2020.
Kristin Murphy, Deseret News

For the last decade, America has been steadily moving towards utilizing renewable power sources. Thousands of Utahns have recently installed rooftop solar on their homes. Large tech companies investing in Utah, like Facebook, have committed to using 100% renewable sources of energy, including rooftop solar. And an astonishing 7,000 Utahns are currently employed by solar companies.

However, just a few months ago, Utah’s rooftop solar industry was tragically decimated by a little-known decision by the Public Service Commission. After the decision, solar companies began leaving Utah immediately, just in an effort to survive. New solar installations came to a screeching halt. As one solar company executive recently stated, “I don’t know why any solar company would ever stay here. The sooner they leave Utah, the better their chance of surviving.”

For a state like ours, with so many companies relocating here and the influx of new residents making it difficult to even buy a home, this fleeing industry is truly an outlier in Utah.

The PSC’s decision reduces what is called the “export credit rate,” or the amount of credit you get from your utility company when you provide solar power back to the grid. And if these recently-lowered rates weren’t bad enough, the PSC also indicated it would possibly change that rate every single year — starting this year.

One of the reasons customers purchase rooftop solar systems is because they can generally predict how long it will take for their investment to recoup its cost. This is the same with any large investment — the purchaser needs to estimate their likely return before making the purchase. The PSC’s decision unfortunately makes it almost impossible to predict what the return on a solar investment will be, and thus whether it even makes financial sense to purchase a solar system in the first place. This is why sales have come to a halt, and companies are scrambling to leave Utah.

Utah state Sen. Kirk Cullimore, R-Sandy, has introduced a bill that will restore to the industry the one thing it lacks: stability and predictability. Sen. Cullimore’s bill, SB245 titled “Net Metering Amendments,” will help solar purchasers estimate their return before purchasing a solar system. This will encourage people to purchase them in the first place, hopefully resurrecting our state’s newest dying industry. It will make sure that those who are looking at purchasing solar systems — large or small — will be in a better position to know whether their investment will pay off, making it more likely they will purchase a system in the first place.

As an industry, we appreciate the strong leadership of Republicans like Sen. Cullimore on renewable energy and climate-related issues. We also appreciate our federal delegation members like Sen. Mitt Romney and Rep. John Curtis, both who are leading the way on these issues nationally.

In the final days of this session, the state legislature has an opportunity to help this critical Utah industry — one that is not only helping clean our air, and address climate change, but one that also employs thousands of Utahns. For now.

Scott Cramer is the president of Go Solar Group.