As an employee of a Utah solar company, Creative Energies, I know the value the solar industry has to modernize, grow and protect Utah’s economy and communities. However, the industry is being threatened by Rocky Mountain Power, jeopardizing the accessibility of this clean energy technology for Utah homes and businesses.
The Public Service Commission is in the process of deciding whether to accept the recommendation of RMP to drastically reduce the export credit rate — the amount homeowners receive for excess solar power going back to the grid for public consumption. If RMP is successful, most people won’t be able to afford to invest in clean, renewable solar energy.
What does this mean for Utah communities and businesses?
Families and businesses won’t be able to afford it, making solar accessible only to the wealthy, despite the fact that solar is cheaper than coal, where most of RMP’s energy comes from. The collapse of the solar industry in Utah’s free and open market would prevent individuals from being able to get their energy from more affordable and cleaner sources. Instead, we will all be stuck with coal power, designed to generate electricity from one large source and push it out on an antiquated grid.
Secondly, our overreliance on coal is hurting our health and environment. As Utah experiences an increase in lung-damaging diseases, the threats of continued pollution are more real than ever. Utah and its elected officials, who are supposed to be protecting us, should do everything they can to bolster the solar industry instead of allowing it to be forced into extinction.
Finally, most solar companies will not survive such an erroneous attack on Utah’s solar industry. COVID-19 has been devastating to so many small businesses. However, our business has found that solar technology is resilient and has been sought out during this pandemic. We attribute this to what solar technology provides (privately owned, clean on-site energy production) and two major events in 2020 that knocked out power to 240,000 homeowners and businesses in the Salt Lake Valley (the March earthquake and the downslope wind event this month). We saw a major uptick in clients wanting resiliency and self-reliance. When solar technology is coupled with battery storage, a home creates its own microgrid during a large-scale power outage event.
Together, all of these impacts make rooftop solar an important investment for Utah and its citizens. If utilized properly, it will create jobs and increase sources of electricity to help bolster our economy as it gets back on its feet post-pandemic. An open market favors innovation, businesses favor diverse opportunities for growth, and Utahns favor energy independence, a pathway to self-reliance and having cleaner air.
Rocky Mountain Power has tried killing the solar industry more than once, first by attempting to institute a “sun tax” for rooftop solar owners and lowering the export credit rate. Since 2017, when the export credit rate was lowered, the industry saw a significant drop in solar installations resulting in 600 jobs lost. Reducing the export credit by 84% could certainly complete the collapse of the rooftop solar industry in Utah.
As a Utah resident, I know myself, my co-workers and our customers love living here because of its natural beauty, culture and values. We also know that the well-being of our community depends on making responsible and visionary choices. By supporting accessible, local, distributed renewable energy generation, we are ensuring a reliable, more affordable and cleaner energy future for everyone in Utah. We call on the members of the Public Service Commission to protect Utah’s solar industry from an energy giant as it competes against solar in a free and open market.
Tom Mills is a policy advocate for Creative Energies Solar in Salt Lake City.