A Bright Future
Clean Energy Shines in Utah Neighborhood
Posted: 11-June-2009; Updated: 11-June-2009
When it came time to retire, Carl Berger had enough of chilly Michigan, so he and his wife moved to the Southwest for sunshine. But basking in southern Utah's warm hues wasn't enough, so they purchased power directly from the sun to heat their new home under an innovative program in St. George.
Their new town offers residential and commercial users solar energy via the city's "SunSmart" program. Residents rent renewable power from a central 100-kilowatt photovoltaic array. For Berger, it's a perfect way to reduce carbon emissions without ruffling his Sun River retirement community, which frowns upon rooftop solar panels.
"We've got 367 days of sunshine per year here in St. George, so solar makes sense," Berger said. "We have a strong commitment to the environment, so I wanted to put my money where my mouth is. With all the concern about global warming, this was the best way to get started," he said.
Utah community pioneers renewable energy
St. George is one of a handful of communities across the West providing renewable power options for residents. The city, 120 miles northeast of Las Vegas, spent $600,000 to install 100 solar panels in December 2008.
"We're seeing more use of solar, wind and other renewables due to increasing demand from homeowners and businesses to reduce monthly utility bills and receive electricity from clean sources," said Neal Lurie, spokesman for the Colorado-based American Solar Energy Society. "There are a variety of creative approaches to reduce one's carbon footprint and increase renewable energy for personal use," he said.
Under SunSmart, residents can elect to purchase shares of the city's solar system under 19-year contracts. The city and the Dixie Escalante Electric cooperative monitors the solar system's output and discounts monthly electric bills for participants accordingly.
René Fleming, conservation coordinator for St. George, said the city launched SunSmart after residents demanded renewable energy in response to a proposed coal-fired power plant in nearby Mesquite, Nev. She said the program has 26 subscribers who save an average of $10 per month on electric bills; many also qualify for a $2,500 federal tax credit. She said the city's goal is to expand the project to 2 megawatts of power. So far, the program has eliminated about 88,000 pounds of greenhouse gases, she said.
Residents contribute to clean energy legacy
After he moved from Denver, Bob Bennett, 63, enrolled in SunSmart because he wanted to support the city as a clean energy pioneer.
"This is a very conservative area and conservation is a four-letter word to a lot of people, so this is progressive action in a conservative region and we wanted to help that along," Bennett said.
David Hansen, 51, has worked as an architect in St. George for 15 years. He's begun incorporating SunSmart into his remodel jobs, especially dwellings unsuitable for on-site solar panels.
"We see a market for this. People want to contribute to going green and saving energy and do their part," Hansen said.
For Berger, he says his monthly electric bills are 25 percent lower now and he expects the savings will grow.
"I try to act in the short run to benefit in the long run," Berger said. "Besides, we're going to leave our kids and grandkids with a big legacy with the environment and as senior citizens we need to support a new direction that will encourage them to think about this."