Utah is home to true wonders of nature: Arches National Park, Moab, Canyonlands, and the Great Salt Lake. Given the harsh desert climate, it’s hard for most things other than rock to retain color, as the pounding desert sun bleaches everything. But that sun also makes Utah an ideal state for solar energy development. And because of the climate, it is among the sunniest states in the country’s solar belt.
Parts of the state get upwards of 6.5 or more kilowatt hours of sunlight per square meter, and most of the state gets an average of 6.0 kWh of sunlight per square meter. The only states that get more overall sun are Arizona and Nevada. Despite this rich resource, the state still has a long way to go in terms of adopting solar and renewable energy.
For instance, the Open PV project, a database of installed solar projects throughout the United States, reports only one PV installation in the state. While that’s not indicative of the Utah market, it is telling. To help people in the state adopt more PV, Utah offers net metering, solar tax incentives, and the state and some Utah utilities offer rebates to residents that install photovoltaics (PVs) and other renewables on their homes and businesses.
The state adopted a voluntary renewable portfolio goal, under which utilities need to pursue renewable energy, only if it is cost-effective. The goal, while similar to a renewable portfolio standard, does not ultimately establish renewable generation requirements for utilities. It was established under The Energy Resource and Carbon Emission Reduction Initiative, which passed in March 2008.
Under the goal, utilities must assess the cost-effectiveness of adding “qualifying electricity” that will generate electricity at the lowest reasonable costs. Qualifying generation includes renewables like wind and solar, and also nuclear energy, as well as some fossil fuel generation with carbon sequestration technologies. Under the goal, 20 percent of a utility’s electric generation must come from qualifying sources by 2025.
The majority of Utah’s current electricity generation comes from coal-fired power plants, according to the DOE’s Energy Information Administration. Two geothermal power plants, as well as natural gas-fired and hydroelectric generation provide the rest of the state’s electricity needs.