Utah utility’s solar incentive program gets new life
By Steve Oberbeck, the Salt Lake Tribune
A Rocky Mountain Power program that since 2007 has offered financial incentives to encourage Utahns to install solar panels on their homes and businesses gets to stick around for at least another year — and maybe longer.
State utility regulators at the Public Service Commission have told the utility they want it to continue to offer its Solar Incentive Program through the end of 2012 and increase its budget from $314,500 a year to $385,000.
The five-year program was set to expire Saturday.
“Temporarily extending the program for one year will provide more time for the development of an ongoing program,” the PSC said in its order, which also indicated it wants the state’s Division of Public Utilities to lead that effort.
Sara Baldwin, a senior policy associate at renewable-energy advocate Utah Clean Energy, said the PSC’s order was an important victory for program proponents.
If the utility’s program had been allowed to expire, those who support solar power development in the state would have faced additional regulatory hurdles to get a similar incentive program re-established, she said.
Investing in renewable solar power makes sense for consumers and the company, Baldwin said, indicating Utah Clean Energy hopes to play a role in coming months in helping establish a long-term effort.
Baldwin pointed out earlier this month that compared with other nearby states, the size of Utah’s program was extremely limited. It had enough funding to encourage the development of only 30 or so systems annually, or around 107,000 watts, with the incentives paid out relative to the size of the systems.
“We’re surrounded by states that offer incentives for several megawatts per month,” she said.
Rocky Mountain Power wasn’t eager for the program to continue, arguing that it had accomplished its objectives and provided the company with valuable information about the use of solar power systems by its customers.
Still, the company said it was comfortable with the PSC’s decision. “We’re happy to do what [the PSC] thinks is best,” said utility spokesman Dave Eskelsen.