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Clean energy shines at Utah Legislature

Published: Monday, March 10 2014 5:10 p.m. MDT

In this Oct. 29, 2011, file photo turbines spin as the sun rises at a wind farm. Wind and solar power, as well as electric cars, were featured Monday as part of the first Clean Energy Business Day at the state Capitol. An exhibit featured Utah projects, as well as leading solar and wind companies doing business in the state.

Dirk Lammers, Associated Press

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SALT LAKE CITY — With only a few days left before the close of business at the Utah Legislature, clean energy advocates made a renewed call for passage of key legislation and trotted out the premier players behind renewable energy projects in Utah.

First Wind, the company behind the state's largest wind farm, is now embarking on seven solar projects in Iron and Beaver counties, while Energy Capital Group is pursuing development of what is touted to be Utah's largest commercial solar field in Millard County.

"The clean energy sector in Utah is alive and thriving," said Sarah Wright, executive director of Utah Clean Energy and organizer of the first Clean Energy Business Day at the Capitol on Monday.

In addition to the exhibit showcasing renewable energy companies or products, the event underscored the importance of key pieces of legislation left to be adopted, including measures that would improve the availability of electric charging stations and bolster state tax credits for certain "clean" vehicles.

Wright noted that lawmakers this year embraced a "landmark" legislative session on clean energy issues, with more than two dozen bills dealing with renewable energy, electric vehicles or air quality.

Three bills in particular, advocates noted, include key provisions to ensure the continued success of solar development in Utah.

Two of the measures, HB326 and SB89, make tweaks to existing laws to ensure solar projects aren't bogged down by red tape or plagued by market insecurity, Wright said. One deals with fire code requirements on rooftop solar systems, while the other is designed to allow public entities access to low-cost, third-party financing for on-site renewable energy projects.

The third measure, SB224, allows larger solar projects to tap into production tax credits like those available to wind and geothermal — an incentive sought by both First Wind and Energy Capital Group.

Several electric vehicles were parked in front of the Utah Capitol on Monday as part of the event, which included a news conference with remarks by Joshua Thor Edson, the electric vehicle representative for Tim Dahle Nissan of Murray.

"If the automobile was invented today, it would be electric," he said.

Edson, Wright and others are pushing passage of measures they say are critical to promoting more electrical vehicle use in the state.

HB19, sponsored by Rep. Patrice Arent, D-Millcreek, will allow for greater development of high-speed charging stations by assuring businesses that sell electricity for that purpose will not be regulated as a utility.

One of the most decisive fights — and apparent victories for advocates — appears to have already been settled.

Homebuilders, solar advocates and Utah Clean Energy were among those who banded together early this session and prevailed in what they say was the most notable battle at Capitol — net metering and automatically charging solar customers a monthly fee.

The orignal version of SB208 proposed to mandate new fees to solar users to pay for Rocky Mountain Power infrastructure that the utility company said was a matter of fairness because those customers are still using the system.

Critics, however, said the proposal was a signficant step backward.

"This could have really harmed Utah's nascent and fledgling solar industry," said Meghan Nutting, spokeswoman with the Alliance For Solar Choice.

Negotiations resulted in a compromise bill that sets up a process to review if solar customers are paying their share of costs to connect into the grid. In addition, benefits of that customer being plugged into solar energy must be weighed, particularly in the summer when energy is the most expensive and demand is highest.

Rocky Mountain Power currently has a pending rate case before the Public Service Commission in which it asks for additional fees for solar customers.

Wright said the legislation helps ensure the process appropriately weighs both the costs and the benefits of solar customers.

"This legislation will make sure that the commission is fair to our emerging solar industry and fair to all ratepayers," he said.

Email: amyjoi@deseretnews.com

Twitter: amyjoi16

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