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University of Utah launches community solar program

Published: Tuesday, April 22 2014 4:23 p.m. MDT

Jay Vestal, a former University of Utah student, talks about the savings he has gained since enrolling in a University of Utah community solar program. The program offers U. community members the opportunity to purchase discounted rooftop solar panels and installation for their homes Tuesday, April 22, 2014, in Salt Lake City.

Tom Smart, Deseret News

SALT LAKE CITY — The University of Utah is becoming the first university in the country to sponsor a community solar program, offering discounted rooftop solar panels and installation for students and other university associated residents.

With its launch Tuesday, the U Solar Program offers enrollees a 25 percent discount on installation through Oct. 1 and is available in Salt Lake, Summit and Davis counties to university communities.

Kate Bowman, solar project coordinator with Utah Clean Energy, said the funding is a "Groupon" model for solar panels, based on the number of participants who sign on in a common geographic area during a specific window of time.

Community solar programs have a solid track record in Summit and Salt Lake counties. In Summit County, for example, the program resulted in the installation of five times more solar capacity than what was installed in the previous year.

Both community projects were initiatives led by Utah Clean Energy.

In Utah County, renewable energy enthusiasts took their cue from those programs and launched a similar effort through the Utah Valley Earth Forum.

Homeowners work directly with one of two selected installers to get a bid based on size, location and energy use of their home. A signed contract by Oct. 1 guarantees the group discount.

“This program makes it easier and more affordable for people to power their homes with solar energy,” said Myron Willson, director of the U.’s Sustainability Resource Center. “Both installers went through a rigorous selection process, considering quality and price — a process that some homeowners may not have the time or expertise to conduct.”

A dollar paid by U. students each semester goes to reduce the impact of fossil fuel use in a program initiated more than 10 years ago. While much of the money has been used to purchase renewable energy credits on the open market, some of those funds are being used for the one-time promotion of the U. Community Solar project.

“We’re happy to use the funds for this because it brings our impact closer to home,” said Sam Ortiz, president of the Associated Students of the University of Utah. “Advancing sustainability and clean energy use is a top concern among students.”

To get started, organizers say homeowners should first take the online solar survey.

Three informational sessions featuring the contractors, Creative Energies and Gardner Engineering, as well as the U. and Utah Clean Energy, will be held.

• April 29, 12:30-2 p.m. in the Alumni Hall of the Health Sciences Education Building on the U. campus, 26 S. 2000 East.

• May 6, 4-5:30 p.m. in the A. Ray Olpin University Union Theater on the U. campus, 200 S. Central Campus Drive.

• June 5, noon-1:30 p.m. in the Gould Auditorium in the Marriott Library on the U. campus, 295 S. 1500 East.

Utah Clean Energy was recently recognized on a regional and national scale for its efforts, with Bowman tapped as a "Champion of Change" for her work in the promotion of solar energy and the organization designated as a southwest hub for information and advocacy on wind power.

Email: amyjoi@deseretnews.com

Twitter: amyjoi16

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