Solarize the Valley Returns for Third Year Despite Market Woes 

Looking at recent headlines, one might think the value of home solar power generation in Idaho is slipping.

“You have a lot of uncertainty in the solar industry in the last year, between tariffs that have been proposed by the Trump administration and then Idaho Power’s effort to change the net metering program,” said Wendy Wilson, executive director of the Snake River Alliance.

Despite that, SRA is rolling out its Solarize the Valley program for the third straight year. Between 2016 and 2017, approximately 1,000 people signed up for free assessments for solar panels at their homes and businesses. Of that number, 109 home and business owners moved forward to cost negotiations, and the SRA paired them with contractors who helped the them navigate the maze of financing and tax benefits in advance of installation. Wilson said she hopes to continue building on those successes.

In 2018, news about a federal tax overhaul and a push from the White House for tariffs have stirred up doubts about the market. While the tax bill Trump signed into law in late 2017 largely preserves tax credits for home renewable energy generation, there was still a 3.8-percent drop in U.S. solar industry employment, due in large part to uncertainty in the marketplace. The President’s proposed 30-percent tariff on imported solar panels, a sizeable chunk of which are produced in China, could also shock demand. In a February industry census, 61 percent of polled project developers said they anticipated a 25-percent drop in home installations.

Adding to the market shakeup was the May 9 Idaho Public Utilities Commission ruling on net metering. The ruling puts Idaho Power’s net metering customers—those who generate some or all of their own electricity—in a separate class of customer from individuals and small businesses that draw only from the electrical grid. The decision prompted outcry from environmental groups, with Sierra Club Idaho Director Zack Waterman writing in a release that it “is premature and may limit customers’ right to offset their own electricity usage without being charged higher rates for electricity consumed from the grid.”

The PUC ruling added that more study is needed before Idaho Power makes changes to net metering that will affect customers, however; and Wilson noted other national developments that might affect the industry have yet to land. Despite the “bad rap” they’ve given solar power in the last year, Wilson hopes to see 300 people sign up for assessments and 30 ask for installations in the Treasure Valley in 2018. A kickoff workshop is scheduled for Wednesday, May 23, at Altenergy Inc. in Garden City, as is an open house at the home of solar ambassadors Paul and Christine Hatab at 2001 N. 18th St. in Boise.

“We’re out there telling people it’s still full steam ahead, and Idaho is still a great place to have solar,” Wilson said.
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