Bountiful sees surge in solar power permit requests ahead of rate change

Sunday , July 16, 2017 - 12:00 AM

TIM VANDENACK, Standard-Examiner Staff

BOUNTIFUL — Bountiful experienced a surge in permit applications in the waning days of June from homeowners interested in installing solar power systems.

But it was spurred by a reduction in power reimbursement rates for those who apply for permits for solar generating systems after July 1 and the change could slow future permit applications over the long haul, a city official says.

“It’s obviously going to slow them down and that’s not really what our intent is,” said Allen Johnson, director of Bountiful City Power, the city’s municipal power company.

The rate change, reducing the amount Bountiful pays new solar power system operators for their excess power during certain periods of the day, was contained in the 2018 city budget, approved by the City Council on June 13. Since about that time and before the change went into effect on July 1, the city received around 40 applications to install solar systems, according to City Manager Gary Hill. If they pass muster, the new permit holders would still be subject to the older, more generous reimbursement rate system.

Coming on top of the 160 or so permitted systems already in Bountiful, most of them residential, the new applications, if they’re all approved, could boost the total to around 200, a 25-percent jump. The number of permits totaled just one in 2009 and increased to 67 in 2016, according to city figures.

RELATED: Bountiful leaders make it easier to get solar panels as popularity grows

Johnson’s contention that solar panel permit requests could taper going forward — even as environmental activists push for more green power — stems from the lower rates and reduced income stream system operators would potentially receive. Indeed, in the lead-up to July 1, he said companies selling solar systems redoubled their marketing in Bountiful, using the looming change to try to coax would-be customers into acquiring equipment while the rate-reimbursement scheme was more generous.

“They were making a full-court press,” Johnson said. Some companies put up signage and billboards in Bountiful and they increased their presence in the city.

Those who already had systems won’t be impacted. Like new customers who submitted applications before July 1, they’ll still be reimbursed per the older schedule.

Under the older scheme, eligible residential solar power system operators receive 9.25 cents per kilowatt hour of power generated from the city. Under the new scheme, they’ll get the 9.25-cent rate for power generated between 4 p.m. and midnight, but lower rates of 4 cents from midnight to noon and 6 cents from noon to 4 p.m.

The older rate made sense when first implemented. “We needed green power and it’s a way of bring green power in,” Johnson said.

But being able to buy energy on the fluctuating open market at lower rates during certain times of the day, the city has lost money at times by paying the 9.25-cent rate. The new rates better reflect what solar power is worth now, he said.

Utah had a cumulative solar electric capacity of 1,526.5 megawatts as of June, seventh-highest among the 50 U.S. states. The vast majority of it, 1,240.9 megawatts, was installed in 2016, according to the Solar Energy Industries Association, a trade group.

Contact reporter Tim Vandenack at tvandenack@standard.net, follow him on Twitter at @timvandenack or like him on Facebook at Facebook.com/timvandenackreporter.

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