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Utah companies switch to solar as interest in renewable manufacturing grows

An aerial view of solar panels arranged in rows

Utah is in the top ten US states that receive the most sunny days each year, on average, making solar energy a cheap and viable electricity option. As the market for products produced with renewable energy grows, Utah-based businesses are beginning to make the switch to solar.

The Utah Municipal Power Agency, or UMPA, which provides customers in the Provo and Spanish Fork area with power, recently began offering solar for both residential and commercial customers.

Jake Theurer, the superintendent of the Spanish Fork City Power Department, said when UMPA began exploring selling solar electricity, they jumped at the opportunity.

“UMPA came to us and said, hey, we want to start a solar project and build it in Spanish Fork and then be able to offer solar to your residents and residents of UMPA for clean, renewable energy as a different source for power. And we said now, that's a great idea. Let's move ahead with it,” Theurer said.

Since then, UMPA has built two solar farms: one in Spanish Fork and one in Mona, dubbed the Clover Creek project.

While companies can invest in solar power on their own, Kat Linford, the energy efficiency and key accounts coordinator at Provo City Power, said that opting for solar power from a solar plant is often cheaper and more efficient than installing private solar panels.

“A rooftop array is about 15% efficiency. Our utility farms, the one in Spanish Fork is operating at 20% efficiency, and then the one in Clover Creek…that one operates at a 30 to 35% capacity. So there is a big difference in how much power is generated between the rooftops and then the solar farms,” Linford said.

Shoppers across the US are becoming increasingly interested in purchasing goods produced with renewable energy, and Linford said Provo Power has seen an increase in manufacturing companies looking to switch to solar as a result.

“It's been a shift in the market over the last several years that clientele want vendors to be renewable. And it makes the commercial customers are able to participate by producing solar at a certain percentage, whatever they elect to reduce their carbon footprint,” Linford explained.

Nature’s Sunshine, a nutritional supplement company based in Spanish Fork, is among these companies. They recently made the switch to using 100% solar power to produce their products. Trent McCausland, Nature’s Sunshine’s vice president of sustainability and transparency, said making the switch was an easy decision.

“This is something that’s incredibly important to us as a company. It's something that resonates with our customers and our employees. We're Nature’s Sunshine, and our customers, employees value sustainability,” McCausland said.

Nature’s Sunshine officially began manufacturing their products using 100% solar power at their Spanish Fork plant on July 1st, but the company started planning the move earlier in the year.

“It was probably about a four month project,” McCausland said. “The infrastructure was there, it was really just kind of finalizing on their end the power purchase agreement, and then setting it up for commercial customers. So we were their first large commercial customer so it was kind of exciting to be part of that.”

According to McCausland, the transition to solar was surprisingly easy, and he hopes more companies in the area will explore using solar as well.

“For us, it was a pretty painless process. And so, I would love to see other companies do the same thing. You know, the more companies that are using clean energy, the better the air quality is going to be in Utah, and with all the other benefits that come along with using clean energy as well,” McCausland urged.

Aimee Van Tatenhove is a science reporter at UPR. She spends most of her time interviewing people doing interesting research in Utah and writing stories about wildlife, new technologies and local happenings. She is also a PhD student at Utah State University, studying white pelicans in the Great Salt Lake, so she thinks about birds a lot! She also loves fishing, skiing, baking, and gardening when she has a little free time.