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Panel approves bill to extend renewable energy tax credits to solar projects

Published: Friday, Sept. 4 2015 7:14 p.m. MDT

A wind turbine  Wednesday, July 7, 2010 in Tooele. A Utah legislative committee on Tuesday approved a measure to extend the production tax credit to solar projects, just as wind and geothermal receive. Senate Majority Leader Ralph Okerlund, R-Monroe, said his bill would level the playing field. (Tom Smart, Deseret News) A wind turbine Wednesday, July 7, 2010 in Tooele. A Utah legislative committee on Tuesday approved a measure to extend the production tax credit to solar projects, just as wind and geothermal receive. Senate Majority Leader Ralph Okerlund, R-Monroe, said his bill would level the playing field. (Tom Smart, Deseret News)

SALT LAKE CITY — A committee of lawmakers Tuesday agreed to extend the production tax credit to large-scale solar projects, essentially "leveling the playing field" for the development of solar fields in Utah.

Sponsored by Senate Majority Leader Ralph Okerlund, R-Monroe, SB224 would grant a financial incentive for solar projects. The tax break already exists for wind, geothermal and other renewable energy sources.

"Currently the production of renewable energy using wind, geothermal and biomass all receive production tax credits that help offset the higher costs of producing renewable power," Okerlund told members of the Senate Revenue and Taxation Committee.

"This production tax credit has helped encourage the development of wind and geothermal projects in the state, and the state’s production credit was an important part of First Wind’s decision to build a 300-megawatt plant near Milford."

Okerlund added that at the time the credit was granted for wind and geothermal projects, the development of solar energy was so prohibitively expensive it didn't seem to be a viable option on Utah's renewable energy horizon.

Technological advancements and solar's popularity have combined to change that, he said.

"Solar panel prices have fallen dramatically, and now there are people who are doing large-scale solar projects in the state who could benefit," Okerlund said.

Pete Sullivan from First Wind said for every dollar of production tax credit given to a renewable energy project, $9 is returned to the local economy.

Sullivan said the credit has helped Utah's only large-scale wind project become a success, and he envisions it being similarly helpful for the company's planned solar development.

First Wind is looking at developing seven small utility-scale projects — less than 3 megawatts — in Beaver and Iron counties. Company officials say they are in varying stages of the permitting process and hope to start work on the projects by end of this year.

Josh Case, chief executive officer of Provo-based Energy Capital Group, also testified in favor of the bill, urging committee members to adopt the measure because of the benefits it will bring to his planned 300-megawatt project near Delta.

"It puts us at a competitive disadvantage compared to other renewable projects in the state" because solar currently doesn't qualify for the credit, Case said.

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