Solar power becoming cheaper than ever with Weber State program

Tuesday , August 25, 2015 - 4:06 PM3 comments

Weber State University’s community solar project sprang up in spring, and it is already helping lots of local homeowners tap into alternative energy.

Karen Thurber and her husband John Hinds just finished installing 10 panels on their 1,600 square-foot home this month. Thurber said she’s always been environmentally conscious, but Weber State’s Susie Hulet Community Solar Program helped give her an extra push toward installing panels.

“A lot of people get the impression that you have to be rich to do this, or that you’ve got to have a great big house, but we’re a moderate-income household and we’re both retired,” she said. “The message that I want to get out to people is this is really affordable.”

The solar program is a partnership with Utah Clean Energy that the Weber State Sustainability Practices and Research Center, or SPARC, launched in April. The program hosts informational workshops and hired a contractor to help streamline the solar panel process.

Thurber said a series of positive circumstance combined, and now’s a good time for all homeowners to consider solar power. The cost of residential panels has dropped by 45 percent over the past five years. Both the federal and state governments offer tax credits for solar installations. Interest rates are low, and plenty of local credit unions are offering special financing for solar panels.

“That kind of thing doesn’t happen very often, all at the same time, for any kind of consumer good,” Thurber said. “Can you see the price of cars going down 45 percent, then you get a tax credit as well?”

All said, the couple’s 10 panels will cost $4,480 after tax credits. They used a financing program through Weber State Credit Union that they’ll pay off in five years.

Thurber and Hinds figure their solar system will generate around 95 percent of the electricity in their home with energy credits offered by Rocky Mountain Power’s net metering.

“So basically, we’re banking electricity, producing more than we’re using right now,” Hinds said. “Then in the winter, we’ll get that back.”

Interested in solar?

Weber State SPARC has two more informational workshops scheduled for homeowners curious about installing solar panels:

• Aug. 27 at the Weber State University Campus, 5:30-7 p.m.

• Sept. 9 at WSU Davis, 5:30-7 p.m.

All workshops are free, and all are welcome to attend, but attendees must first sign up online at

 The Susie Hulet Community Solar Program is open to homeowners in Davis, Weber and Morgan counties. So far, 263 people have taken solar survey to see if their homes are a good fit for panels. Another 38 homeowners have signed a contract to install solar and nine installations are complete.

All said, homeowners have contracted new 185 kilowatts of solar in northern Utah. Coordinators with the Weber State solar program would like to take that number to 300 kilowatts.

“Susie Hulet Community Solar is simply making it easy to get a solar quote and one's questions answered at the solar workshop,” Bonnie Christiansen, a SPARC academic sustainability coordinator, said. “The rest is up to the people to decide, and overwhelming people are saying ’yes’ to solar.”

Christiansen said signing up for workshops and taking the online solar survey, at, are the first steps. And while some government incentives have zapped energy into the solar movement, they’re set to extinguish soon.

“With the 30 percent federal solar tax credit set to expire in 2016, many realize that now is an opportune time to get their installations,” Christiansen said.

Thurber and Hinds have encouraged friends through social media, posting photos of their installation and updates on their panels. Thurber said she plans to post their first post-solar panel electric bill this September to help motivate more rooftops in her network to get on board with solar installations.

“We all have a responsibility, and we can all do something about improving the quality of our air, and that’s the big picture,” she said. “But on the micro level, for the homeowner ... this is doable for people.”

You can reach reporter Leia Larsen at or at 801-625-4289. Follow her on Twitter at @LeiaLarsen or like her on Facebook.

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