This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2016, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.
If a government initiative helped Utah to launch thousands of new jobs, attract millions of dollars in new business and become a national leader in a fast-growing industry all in less than seven years would you consider it a success?
In fact, that's exactly what has happened since the 2009 American Recovery and Reinvestment Act's "green energy" stimulus grants helped kick-start Utah's unprecedented growth in solar energy, with additional state tax credits and business incentives causing that success to snowball.
"[There's a] boom in solar energy development in the state right now, and it really can only be described that way," Jeff Barrett, deputy director of the Governor's Office of Energy Development, recently told the Ogden Standard-Examiner.
He can point to successes including three utility-scale solar projects generating a combined 1,250 jobs in construction alone: Utah Red Hills Renewable Park in Parowan, Four Brothers in Beaver and Iron counties and Three Cedars in Iron County.
And the boom has grown even bigger with the nation's two largest solar-power providers setting down roots in the state. Vivint Solar has built its corporate headquarters in Lehi and is planning to more than double its current workforce of 1,200 Utahns while SolarCity is opening its regional corporate headquarters in Draper.
But instead of celebrating this Utah success story and its potential for our future, Sen. Orrin Hatch, R-Utah, is looking backward. In his role as Senate Finance Committee chairman, Hatch is seeking to launch an inquiry into the federal stimulus plan that sparked Utah's renewable-energy boom.
What Hatch does not seem to recognize, however, is that evaluations of the program that provided federal cash grants for renewable energy have already been published. A comprehensive analysis published in Renewable and Sustainable Energy Reviews said "the stimulus programs helped to boost manufacturing capacity and the [renewable energy] supply chain ... [and] contributed to a decline in CO2 emissions." And the White House Retrospective Assessments of Clean Energy Investments in the Recovery Act earlier this year noted that the act's "clean energy policies laid the foundation for a long-term transition to a cleaner economy by improving clean energy markets, unlocking private capital, helping drive down clean energy technology costs and expanding research and development."
Will Hatch's inquiry manage to account for every penny spent in this multi-billion-dollar program? Possibly not. But as we look at the progress it has launched in our state including Utah's No. 1 ranking for clean-energy job creation by Environmental Entrepreneurs, Salt Lake City's recognition as one of only 16 Climate Action Champion communities in the U.S., and the creation of the Solar Ready Vets program at Hill Air Force Base to train returning military personnel for the solar workforce it can certainly be seen as money well spent.
Michael Shea is policy associate for HEAL Utah.