Summit County bulk solar purchasing program promises 20-30 percent discount
Summit County’s sustainability efforts have continued to grow, with a commitment in place to reduce emissions 80 percent county-wide by 2050, the planning process underway for what would be the first wind farm in the county, and the number of electric vehicle charging stations dotting the area continuing to grow.
Next week, in conjunction with Utah Clean Energy, the county is launching another effort in the fight against climate change: a community-wide program to reduce energy consumption in homes and lower the cost of installing solar energy systems using a bulk purchasing program.
Ryan Anderson, a Utah Clean Energy community program coordinator, said this is a particularly good time for homeowners and businesses to add solar power, as federal tax rebates will decrease at year’s end and the price for excess generated power is expected to drop in the coming years.
Details of the bulk purchasing program will be released at a launch party at Alpine Distilling on July 30.
The program is similar to ones offered by the county in 2013 and 2016, Anderson said. A key difference this time around, however, is that the installer will perform an energy audit of each structure, taking a more holistic approach to reducing energy usage.
“They’re not just going to sell a really big solar system to a family, but say, ‘If you take this really simple step, you can cut your energy usage (dramatically),’” Anderson said.
The goal is to reduce the amount of power from coal-fired power plants, Summit County sustainability program manager Lisa Yoder said. The energy audit will help reduce the total amount of emissions needed to power a home, and the solar system would mean that a higher percentage of the home’s power comes from renewable sources.
Changing to LED lightbulbs is one of the easiest steps to take, Anderson said, and can have a big payoff. Other areas to consider to reduce energy use include household appliances — washing machines and stoves can be major culprits — and beefing up insulation.
The other component of the program is a solar system bulk purchasing program, which the county has used successfully in the past. According to a presentation Anderson made to the County Council last week, a 2013 program netted 59 installations that produced 315 kW of power, while a 2016 effort nearly doubled that, with 110 installs producing 691 kW. The goal for this effort is 150 installations.
A citizen steering committee sent a request for proposals to all of the solar installers in the state, Anderson said. This time, the RFP required installers to include an energy efficiency proposal in addition to solar system information.
In exchange for access to the large customer base in Summit County that might take advantage of the program, the committee asked the installers to offer a discounted group rate. Solar systems are priced by wattage, Anderson said, and the going rate is about $3.30 per watt.
Utah Clean Energy is waiting until the launch party on July 30 to release the name of the installer and the specific price it offered per watt, but Anderson said it represents a 20 percent to 30 percent savings, depending on the size of the system.
There are further economic incentives to pursuing solar energy now, Anderson said. If a solar system creates more energy than the household can immediately use, the excess power often goes back into the electrical grid. The amount Rocky Mountain Power pays for that power is expected to decrease next year, Anderson said, but anyone who installs through this program — or before those changes take effect — will be grandfathered in to the current rate.
In addition, the federal tax credit on solar systems will be reduced from 30 percent to 26 percent at the end of 2019.
Yoder said she’s heard from residents who missed their chance the first two times around who wanted to see the program return, calling it hugely successful. She cautioned the large number of installations may delay the process, but the goal is to have them completed by the end of the year so homeowners can take advantage of the incentives.
Summit County has a $45,000 service agreement with Utah Clean Energy to administer the program.
To take the survey that starts the process of enrolling, visit scpwsolar.org.
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Representatives from the American Institute of Architects came to town Thursday, held a community visioning session and dinner Friday, worked all weekend and presented a 75-page report to the community Monday.