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St. George solar panel program sees less participation than hoped for

By John Hollenhorst | Posted - Jul 8th, 2012 @ 10:14pm

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ST. GEORGE — Myron Porter is proud to show off his 3- bedroom home. He does what he can to save electricity, without being a miser. And he happily bought into his city's ambitious solar energy farm, built three years ago at a cost of $1 million.

"This is the good life, living in St. George," he said. "We love our city for being progressive on trying a new, renewable energy."

Porter and his wife, Joan, bought one unit in the solar farm — about 5 solar panels — for $6,000.

"We get a rebate on our electricity bill, a discount per month, on how much it generates out there," Porter said.

Rene Fleming runs the solar program for the city. They lowered the price from $6,000 to $5,000. But the solar units have not exactly been selling like hotcakes.

"The participants, as they buy in, they reimburse us," he said. "(We have) 250 units, and we've sold roughly 33."

It's probably because, unless other sources of electricity get far more expensive, the buyer won't recover the initial investment.

"Oh, it's a great investment," Porter laughed. "It's only $6,000 to buy it, and we're getting $10–$12 a month back. That means I won't live long enough to recover, but we're doing it to support the city."

I won't live long enough to recover, but we're doing it to support the city.

–Myron Porter

The unbought solar panels still generate electricity for the grid, so the city doesn't consider it a waste of money.

"So, a disappointment, but certainly not a disaster," Fleming said.

To a degree, it's a case of people not being willing to put their money where their mouth is. A few years ago, in a battle over a coal-fired power plant, a lot of people said they would be willing to pay more for green power.

"And here we have a green resource, and those people did not want to participate," Fleming said.

Porter believes he's doing his part to get a clean energy source off the ground, even if it's not cost effective today.

"With any new industry, it's never practical, because they have to buck the established systems," he said.

The units are still for sale, for anyone in St. George who has the money, and the commitment.


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