DRAPER — Twelve-year-old Elline Harrison's motivation for a recent school science project also captures the heart of her family's decision to invest in a new rooftop solar power system — and a high-speed electric vehicle charging station — for their home on the bench above this Salt Lake County suburb.
"I was just interested in solar and wanted the world to be a better place and wanted the environment to be better," Elline said.
Elline's mom, Dr. Suzanne Harrison, is an anesthesiologist at Riverton Hospital who helped cultivate her daughter's concern for taking responsibility for the human contribution to the valley's horrendous air quality, particularly at this time of year.
"I live in Utah and I breathe the air here, and it’s become a priority … to do our part to improve our air pollution," Harrison said. "I’m a medical doctor, and my patients suffer every year, and this is something we could do as a family to make a difference."
Thom Carter, executive director of the Utah Clean Air Partnership, said there is no "silver bullet" for solving air quality issues in the Salt Lake Valley and other areas of the state, but there are some straightforward actions that can, and do, make a difference.
"We like to say there are not perfect answers but there are practical solutions, and the Harrisons are a great example of a family coming together for a practical solution," Carter said. "The more tailpipes we can take off the road, that’s a very practical solution for solving air quality issues in the state."
Vehicle emissions account for more than 50 percent of local air pollution, he said, and continuing to increase the number of electric vehicles on the road — currently less than 1 percent nationally and in Utah — could be accomplished, albeit with some encouragements.
While an electric vehicle tax credit of $7,500 survived the recently passed changes to federal tax code, Utah legislators voted to kill an extension of the state tax credit during the 2017 session. And there's talk among state lawmakers about assessing a new fee on electric vehicles to recoup money for road maintenance and construction that they say is being lost thanks to EV owners' reduced contributions to gasoline tax revenue coffers.
"We need to do more," Carter said. "We need to be working with our policymakers. … Everybody is the problem, so everyone needs to be the solution."
Vivint Solar CEO David Bywater said his company, which was the vendor for the system the Harrisons purchased, is trying to be part of that solution and offers a number of options for residents interested in adding power-producing solar panels to their roofs.
Federal- and state-level incentives can make the overall cost very affordable, Bywater added.
"Incentives for customers are two-fold, with a federal tax credit of about 30 percent and a state level incentive that’s worth a couple thousand dollars," he said. "Cost varies by the size of their system, but for most customers, it’s actually cheaper than the cost of their consumption."11 comments on this story
Bywater also noted that while high-speed electric vehicle charging for residential installations is a recent offering, he expects its popularity to increase as more and more electric vehicles ply the Utah roadways.
"There are estimates that by 2040 there will be 540 million EV cars globally," he said. "I think it’s a thing that will gain more momentum each year. I believe Utah is growing faster than any other state because we have environmentally conscious consumers and they want to do their part."