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Utah Lures New Solar Jobs

SolarCity has installed several systems in Utah, including this one at the Olympic Oval. The announcement Friday means its footprint's about to get much bigger.

State economic development officials say thousands of new jobs are coming to Utah in the solar-energy industry.

SolarCity already has a presence in Utah after putting solar panels on the Olympic Oval and Utah’s National Guard buildings. Friday the California-based company announced it’s bringing a regional headquarters to Utah. Brendon Merkley is SolarCity’s executive director of customer operations for Solar.

“We’re particularly attracted to the educated work force in Utah, the outdoorsman culture around sporting year-round,” he says. “Utah also has a wonderful business climate.”

Publicly traded SolarCity claims customers in 18 states and a payroll of 12,000. It’s installed one of every three solar systems in the U.S., and the company’s anticipating a new growth spurt that will bring around 4,000 jobs to Utah over the next decade.

The expansion’s happening at a time when another company, Lehi-based Vivint Solar is adding another 3,000 jobs. Merkley calls it a sign of the times.

“We find a lot of people who are excited to support efforts to slow and end climate change, and they can do so while saving money at the same time,” he says. “It’s kind of the best of both worlds.”

The Governor’s Office of Economic Development is providing the two companies with nearly $37 million in state tax credits based on performance. The expansion’s represent a boon for alternative energy in a state that’s traditionally promoted its fossil fuels.

Utah gets about 10 percent of its energy from renewables now, but it will be 15 percent by the end of next year.

Judy Fahys has reported in Utah for two decades, covering politics, government and business before taking on environmental issues. She loves covering Utah, where petroleum-pipeline spills, the nation’s radioactive legacy and other types of pollution provide endless fodder for stories. Previously, she worked for the Salt Lake Tribune in Utah, and reported on the nation’s capital for States News Service and the Scripps League newspaper chain. She is a longtime member of the Society of Environmental Journalists and Investigative Reporters and Editors. She also spent an academic year as a research fellow in the Knight Science Journalism program at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. In her spare time, she enjoys being out in the environment, especially hiking, gardening and watercolor painting.
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