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Op-ed: Proposed solar fee hurts a growing Utah industry

First Published Aug 29 2014 05:05PM      Last Updated Aug 29 2014 05:57 pm

The United States solar industry created 20,000 jobs last year, meeting public demand for cleaner, more affordable energy. Much of these jobs created across America’s rooftops was driven by homeowners’ increased ability to choose rooftop solar as a cost-saving alternative to rising utility electricity rates.

What we hear often from families who go solar with us is that they like having the same choice in electricity that they enjoy in so many other walks of life. They also like contributing to the creation of sales, installation and operations jobs that can’t be outsourced. At Vivint Solar, we employ over 2,200 employees and direct sellers and more than 700 of those customer support employees are based here in Utah. However, we have yet to set up active operations in Utah to provide solar choices to its residents, in part due to the ongoing rhetoric concerning solar fees and operations from Rocky Mountain Power and others.

With a total of 140,000 solar industry jobs in the United States, some states have more solar employees than the entire labor force of utilities. With the 20,000 new jobs created last year, we’re just on the cusp of seeing them come to Utah, where they’ll find a populace that is sensible, cost-conscious, and optimistic. Currently, Utah solar is growing more quickly on the commercial business side, where the Utah National Guard, Clark Planetarium, and eBay Inc. have invested in solar arrays to lock down energy rates as a strategic hedge against fossil fuel price shocks and electric utility rate increases.

Based upon its leadership in developing a truly "All of the Above" approach to energy in Utah, we know the Utah Public Service Commission understands what the people and economy of Utah want and need. The core problem with Rocky Mountain Power’s proposal to impose a fee on solar customers is that it would punish Utah homeowners for deciding (for reasons ranging from air pollution control along the Wasatch Front to household budgets) to exert more personal control over their energy choice by adopting solar. Many would argue that’s the homeowner’s choice, just as if they decided to reduce their electricity consumption and costs by turning off the lights or adjusting the thermostat when leaving the house.

Nevada, which is today slightly ahead of Utah in solar growth, recently commissioned an analysis of rooftop solar’s benefits and impacts on all ratepayers, whether they’ve gone solar or not. The results? Solar installs on Nevada’s rooftops through 2016 alone will save all ratepayers $36 million, money that usually comes out of their monthly bills for expensive fuel purchases as well as the transmission lines to transport that fuel and electricity from hundreds of miles away.

The Utah Public Service Commission has not conducted a cost benefit study as our Nevada neighbors have done. The PSC’s public hearing in July included a record-setting list of speakers who voiced overwhelming support for the benefits of solar. We understand why utilities may prefer to maintain the monopoly they’ve enjoyed for decades, but the people of Utah deserve to know solar’s benefits through a commissioned-sanctioned study.

Given an opportunity and well-informed with the facts, Utahns will make the right choice. What they and millions of other Americans want in 2014 is the power to shape the policies that can improve their household budgets, employment prospects, and family health.

Greg Butterfield is president and CEO of Provo-based Vivint Solar.





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