Utah lawmakers give renewable energy a boost

HB430 » Panel passes bill giving incentives to wind, solar and geothermal projects.
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Tax incentives for renewable-energy equipment manufacturers and developers got a warm embrace Wednesday during a legislative committee meeting after supporters said the bill would mean hundreds of new high-paying jobs.

HB430, sponsored by House Majority Leader Kevin Garn, R-Layton, promises to make Utah and its abundant potential for wind, solar and geothermal energy more competitive with other states that already make it easy for clean-energy businesses to set up shop.

"It's going to attract new businesses to our state," Garn told members of the House Workforce Services and Community and Economic Development Committee, which unanimously advanced the measure to the full House.

The bill comes from Gov. Jon Huntsman Jr.'s Office of Economic Development, which built on the GOP governor's efforts during the past four years to increase Utah's energy security.

Derek Miller, GOED's managing director for corporate recruitment, said the incentives would create jobs in the coming year. "There are companies waiting at the door for this [bill] to pass."

One of those companies is Solectric, which makes solar panels.

Company Vice President Ryan Lambert said Solectric, which has offices in Utah and Oregon, has done business abroad while waiting for the United States to get up to speed on renewables.

"The incentives like this very much help our decision," Lambert said. The company ideally would own solar farms, which in their first phase would employ 250 to 300 workers who earn an average of $50,000 a year, he said. The second phase would employ 600 more.

Miller said the renewable-energy incentives would be like other GOED "post-performance" programs, with tax breaks following production. "We never give out the dime until we get the dollar."

Projects would be limited to renewable-energy zones identified in a report published on the Utah Geological Survey's Web site (www.geology.utah.gov). While most solar, wind and geothermal zones are in rural areas, Miller said, the urbanized Wasatch Front has great potential for rooftop solar.

Rob Adams -- of Beaver County's economic-development office in southwestern Utah -- said officials there support Garn's bill. The Salt Lake County Chamber and a conventional-energy group also are on board.

"Traditional energy producers support this effort," said Jeff Hartley of Responsible Energy Developers of Utah. "The energy crisis is real."