The Wasatch Solar Project will propel Utah’s nascent solar market towards a cumulative capacity of 1,075 MW of solar PV by 2024 by addressing major barriers and developing actionable strategies. Though Utah has some of the most plentiful solar resources in the nation, the solar PV market is still developing. Current capacity in Utah is 18.95MW, but according to NREL the state has the potential for 6,000MW of rooftop PV and 2,404,000MW of utility-scale PV.
Utah’s rapidly growing population, paired with strong solar potential, yields tremendous opportunity for solar development in the state. Current market conditions include rising energy demands, increasing solar capacity, and declining costs.
Through the collaboration between Salt Lake City Corporation, Utah Clean Energy, and other active leaders and jurisdictions in the state, Utah’s cumulative solar capacity has increased by 82% per year since 2009. Together, the partners have successfully completed numerous solar projects funded by the U.S. Department of Energy SunShot Initiative since 2005 that have spurred solar market growth.
In 2012, Utah’s first bulk-purchase solar initiative helped reduce upfront PV costs by 40%, and in 2013 a similar initiative resulted in a 500% increase in annual residential solar installations in Summit County in 2013. Nearly 1 gigawatt of utility-scale solar is slated to be developed by the end of 2016 thanks to declining solar prices and Utah’s new avoided cost calculation method for Public Utility Regulatory Policy Act (PURPA) qualifying facilities.
Salt Lake City, Utah Clean Energy, and county partners are also responsible for leveraging U.S. Department of energy funds to remove policy and regulatory barriers resulting in third-party power purchase agreements for Utah’s governments, schools, and churches, and a renewable energy direct-purchase option for large energy consumers.
A substantive, collaborative stakeholder process will build new partnerships and help to ensure success across the four main project areas. The team will engage and solicit input from key decision makers from the solar industry, local and state government, business and community leaders, and utility, regulatory, construction, and finance representatives.
The awardee team, along with a broad set of stakeholders, will create a comprehensive long-term solar deployment strategy for the state, conduct a net metering cost and benefit analysis of the value of rooftop solar, accelerate a replicable C-PACE financing program, and integrate solar into emergency preparedness planning for healthcare facilities. These project objectives will create a path for continued solar price reductions, increased market penetration, and improved market certainty for Utah’s solar industry and consumers.
The Wasatch Solar Project Team kicked off 2015 by introducing Commercial Property Assessed Clean Energy (or C-PACE) financing to Utah. The team released final program guidelines in January 2015 and partnered with the Utah Governor’s Office of Energy Development (OED) to begin offering the financing program to businesses across Utah.
The Wasatch Solar team and OED worked with lenders, law firms, and local municipalities to create a robust framework through which interested businesses can access C-PACE financing for building upgrade projects. The first C-PACE pilot project in Utah was completed in September 2015, and OED is now accepting applications from potential C-PACE projects, from municipalities interested in offering C-PACE, and from companies seeking to become approved C-PACE contractors.
Spring 2015 marked the beginning of a Utah Public Service Commission-led effort to develop a framework for assessing the costs and benefits of net metering in Utah. The Wasatch Solar Team participated in a series of technical working groups organized by the Utah Public Service Commission and engaged technical experts to present to the group. Working group members included local government officials, energy users, utility representatives, nongovernmental organizations, and solar industry professionals. The technical working groups addressed topics related to net metering, including:
The Team presented the working group’s technical recommendations and evidence regarding an analytical framework for assessing the costs and benefits of net metering to the Utah Public Service Commission.
Once the Public Service Commission approves the analytical framework, the Team will publish the Commission’s findings and disseminate team to the Wasatch Solar Project Team stakeholders and other interested parties across the nation.
Another element of the Wasatch Solar Project is investigating the potential for integrating solar+storage into emergency planning statewide. As part of this effort, the Project Team is working with a local healthcare facility to determine the feasibility of integrating solar+storage into the facility’s emergency management plans with the ultimate goal of installing a battery storage system as a companion measure to existing back-up energy resources.
In July 2015, the Wasatch Solar Project Team hosted a workshop for the Private Sector Preparedness Council to discuss the benefits of integrating solar in emergency planning. The purpose of the Private Sector Preparedness Council is to help businesses plan for emergencies in order to increase resilience in the event of a disaster. Representatives from Utah businesses learned about on-site solar installations and the potential for microgrids and solar coupled with storage to increase their resilience in the event of a disaster.
In August 2015, the Wasatch Solar Team hosted a tour of Utah’s first utility-scale solar farm, which is currently under construction. The 104 MW (DC) solar project will be fully operational in December 2015 and is the first of several utility-scale facilities scheduled to be completed before the end of 2016. Tour attendees including local government, state agency, and business representatives, legislative staffers, the Economic Development Corporation of Utah, and community members learned about how this “solar power plant” will create jobs and help the local economy.
The Wasatch Solar Team will continue to focus on stakeholder engagement and expanding solar awareness during the second year of the project. The team will publish a ten year solar deployment plan for Utah based on robust stakeholder input and make it available both online and in hard copy. To increase community awareness of solar energy’s ability to make critical facilities and hospitals more reliable in an emergency, the Wasatch Solar team will publish a summary document of best practices and a roadmap for implementation of solar PV projects with storage at healthcare facilities.
Much of the Wasatch Solar Team’s work in the second year of the project will expand awareness of the benefits of solar energy throughout Utah. The team will continue to collaborate with stakeholders to develop an action plan to address impactful priority programs identified in the solar deployment plan and publicize solar successes across the state.