13 Apr, Tuesday
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Utah Business

Invest in clean energy, save Utah’s air

When a global pandemic forces millions of Utahns inside for months at a time, bringing our legendary economy to a crashing halt and causing the death of hundreds of our citizens, it’s hard to find hope in the future. 

Amidst the “Stay Safe, Stay Home” order from Governor Herbert, Utah residents largely stopped commuting to work and visiting friends. The reduced cars on the road have led to an average drop of CO2 by 26 percent in the Salt Lake Valley over the same time last year. 

Similar drops in other harmful chemicals that contribute to the sometimes troubling pollution in the state of Utah have been observed. While COVID-19 is not the way we would wish to take on environmental issues, it has undisputedly made a positive impact on the state’s air quality. 

The momentum of the moment has the potential to carry us forward through the next few years, if we seize the opportunity to take green energy seriously. 

Recently, Utah has rallied to make significant changes and embrace clean energy policies. Last year, HB 411 was signed into law, allowing Utah cities to shift to 100 percent renewable energy by working with Rocky Mountain power, instead of against it. This year, Utah reached almost 1,800 megawatts of solar energy capacity, and moved up to 11th in the nation in terms of the solar energy we produce. 

These are positive steps. But to preserve Utah’s beautiful views, famous snow, and consistent economy, we have to do more.

The time is right now to build on these recent successes to bring more clean energy to Utah. The value of non-traditional energy solutions has never been more clear. 

To push forward, Utahns can focus on continued legislative and economic investment in solar power as an industry. Utah gets 8 percent more sunny days than the national average, so the potential for solar power exists not only as a path to cleaner air, but to a potential economic export. 

As the state resumes some form of normalcy, it is inevitable that cars will be back on I-15, massive office spaces will consume huge amounts of energy, and the air quality will again suffer. We can’t solve every problem at once. But now that we have seen the difference that decreasing our consumption of fossil fuels makes, we can tackle some major hurdles to help that difference become permanent. 

While the legislature takes up things like Senate Bill 111—the Energy Storage Innovation, Research, and Grant Program Act—in the coming year, the business community can make a strong impact on their own.

Business leaders should be looking for ways to integrate solar and other clean energy sources into their everyday operations. If the improvement in the air quality of the valley isn’t enough incentive, the economic impacts should be. 

Building a low-carbon economy now will yield big benefits down the road. Investment in solar energy has been shown to create jobs, increase property values, and stabilize utility prices. In some cases, solar panels even provide another revenue stream to businesses who can utilize physical properties for large-scale installations, much like IKEA, Walmart and Target have done.

We urge business owners to take advantage of current government incentives that make an investment in solar energy easy on the bottom line. The Federal Investment Tax Credit allows businesses or residential customers to take a 26 percent tax credit on all solar installation work that begins before the end of 2020. Utah also has unique programs to encourage growth in the clean energy industry. The net metering laws in the state allow businesses to sell some of excess energy generated by solar panels back to the utility company. A combination of net metering, net billing, and feed-in tariffs ensure that business owners save drastically on utility bills through solar panels.

Consumers are demanding more social responsibility from the brands they spend money on. Businesses should demand more of themselves.

Utah’s air quality impacts the business of the state – one study estimated that the costs of air pollution in the state amount to nearly $2 billion each year. Fewer tourists, regulatory burdens, and lost productivity due to employee health issues are real factors that show up in the bottom line for every Utah business. 

Let’s push forward to a cleaner, brighter future. Let’s support the legislation that paves the way for more investment in solar energy in our state. Let’s speak in actions. Every business owner that shifts even a portion of their energy consumption to clean sources helps to lower the emissions that contribute to the inversion we see each winter season.

Through the current crisis, we have seen a glimpse of what cleaner air quality in Utah could look like if we all work together. Let’s go there.

Glenn Jakins is the CEO of Humless. John Pilmer is a member of the Utah Valley Clean Air Task Force.