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An unprecedented solar boom has been good to Utah businesses the state's solar industry grew at more than twice the national rate in 2016, according to a new report.
Utah solar companies added more than 1,700 new jobs last year, according to the nonprofit Solar Foundation's annual Solar Jobs Census a nearly 65 percent increase over 2015. Nationwide, solar companies grew by an average of 25 percent.
Andrea Luecke, the Washington, D.C.-based foundation's president and executive director, said Utah's growth coincided with a 200 percent increase in residential solar array installations during the same time period.
While falling prices have spurred growth across the nation, Luecke said Utah's solar potential, as well as state tax credits and favorable rates paid by utilities for surplus residential power, appear to have spurred a surge of installations, resulting in job growth.
Growth rates were slower in other Western states where the solar industry is already well-established states such as California and Arizona, where the industry grew by 32 and 6 percent, respectively.
New Mexico, Oregon and Washington saw growth rates similar to Utah's at or above 50 percent. Wyoming and Idaho, where solar has caught on more slowly, boasted growth above 50 percent, but still have fewer than 1,000 solar jobs each.
In Nevada, which has seen an increase in utility-scale solar projects but a decrease in residential installations, the industry lost nearly 400 jobs, according to the report.
Ryan Evans, president of the Utah Solar Energy Association, said area companies benefited from a snowball effect as interest in solar exploded.
"Neighbors see neighbors putting solar on their roof," Evans said. "People are seeing friends and family all installing solar, and are much more curious and eager to invest in the technology."
Both Evans and Luecke said they expect solar to continue to grow in Utah this year, though not at quite so frenetic a pace. Luecke said The Solar Foundation, based on reports from Utah's solar companies, projects the industry will grow by 16.8 percent in the state in 2017. The national industry, she said, is expected to grow by 10 percent.
But after this year, Evans said, Utah's solar companies may face challenges.
The industry is currently engaged in talks with Rocky Mountain Power and the state Public Service Commission regarding a proposal that could raise electrical rates for most of Utah's new solar households. Depending the outcome in that net metering case, Evans said, future solar growth in Utah could suffer.
The impact of a separate proposal to phase out state tax credits is less clear, he said.
There won't be any effect this year, said Evans, because the phase-out wouldn't begin until 2018. But as the maximum dollar amount of the credits decreases over the next four years as envisioned in the current proposal before state lawmakers "that might start to impact the upward curve of the solar industry in terms of creating jobs," he said.
Evans said he hoped that the cost of installing solar, which continues to drop, will fall enough to make up for the loss of the tax credit.