Solar panel stock image, St. George News
ST. GEORGE — Municipalities, school districts, businesses and homeowners across the country in increasing numbers are turning to water and energy conservation options and rebate incentives to transition to environmentally friendly appliances, irrigation systems and practices.
The city of St. George is part of the eco-friendly list of communities that have joined the movement.
Rene Fleming, St. George’s manager of energy and water customer service, told St. George News she is excited with all of the savings opportunities offered to the city’s utility customers.
When it comes to the concept of water conservation in St. George, most people think of outdoor watering first, and while there are programs for that, Fleming said many people aren’t aware that the city has had an ongoing $75 toilet rebate system for over a decade.
“We are seeing on average, toilets can save 1,000 or more gallons a year when folks replace their old toilets, going from a higher water flow to lower flow capacity,” she said.
Fleming said there are restrictions to qualify for replacement toilets installed prior to 2007. Residents are asked to contact St. George Energy Services Department, and if qualified, the city will rebate up to $75 maximum for two toilets.
The Utah Division of Water Resources is also offering $100 for every Utahn who replaces an old toilet. The toilet must have been installed before 1994, and two toilets per property are eligible for the $100 rebate.
For replacement rebates of toilets installed prior to 1994 visit Utahwatersavers.com for qualifications and how to apply.
When it comes to outdoor watering, the city encourages residential customers to take advantage of local, county and state conservation rebate programs for consumer upgrade programs, including smart irrigation clocks.
“We use about 60% of our water on irrigation,” Fleming said.
During the summer months, the city provides more than 40 million gallons of water per day to its customers.
Currently, more than 10 million gallons of water are delivered between 4-6 a.m. Based on the water distribution system data, it appears that the majority of the residents in St. George are watering their landscapes between the same hours.
City officials ask customers to water between 8 p.m. and 8 a.m., during the summer months when evaporation plays a critical factor in water loss.
Throughout Western states, water has become a scarce commodity.
The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration say that about 12 percent of the contiguous U.S. fell in the moderate to extreme drought categories at the end of March.
According to a study published in the Science journal, the western United States is entering into the deepest “megadrought” in more than 1,200 years.
What’s happening now is “a drought bigger than what modern society has seen,” said study lead author A. Park Williams, a bioclimatologist at Columbia University.
The U.S. drought monitor puts much of Oregon, California, Colorado, Utah and Nevada and good chunks of New Mexico, Arizona and Idaho in abnormally dry, moderate or severe drought conditions.
This means that locally, water is a concern.
The city of St. George partners with Washington County Water Conservancy District, which hosts programs such as Free Water Check where customers can have a staff member evaluate irrigation system efficiencies and modify watering schedules when needed.
This program has been put on a temporary hold because of COVID-19.
“This has been very effective,” Fleming said. “They are thinking by (June 1) they will be able to get this program up and running again.”
Also on hold due to the COVID-19 pandemic is the city’s brown bag lunch energy workshops, which are tentatively scheduled to begin again on June 17.
Past workshops have covered insulation, replacing inefficient single-pane windows and the importance of air conditioning tune-ups and preventive maintenance.
As an incentive to boost attendance in future workshops, the city will give away a smart, Wi-Fi-controllable home thermostat to one attendee. To qualify, winners must be a resident of St. George and have a utility account with the city.
One big push in St. George’s energy efficiencies has been in solar.
“We have a pretty active solar net metering program,” Fleming said. “About two weeks ago we put on our 300th solar install. These are customer installations behind the (electricity) meter. We currently have a little more than three megawatts of solar installed within the city.”
A megawatt of solar provides enough power for about 200 homes.
Fleming said the green energy option may not mean the end to power bills forever, but it offers environmental sustainability and a measurable cost-benefit to monthly bills.
Under the net metering program, customers install solar-generated power on their own to meet their personal needs. If their needs are less than what they generate, the excess kilowatt-hours are available to the public energy grid.
However, net metering has its reciprocal benefit, Fleming said.
“If a customer needs more power than they can generate during cloudy days or in the middle of the night, energy will flow back from the grid, and they will not pay for those kilowatt hours until they’ve used up all of their virtual storage (energy bank).”
Once the storage credits have been used, customers will receive a bill on energy use.
Regardless of solar energy supplements, customers may receive a monthly base-rate charge depending on energy use and a solar reliability charge, which is designed to recover city operation and maintenance costs for the internal electric grid.
Net metering and state tax credits combined with federal tax credits provide “real” savings when it comes to installing solar for Utah homeowners, Fleming added.
Although there is a long term cost-benefit, Fleming said, there is an initial cost to residents of “investment” for installation.
For an installation of more than 20 solar panels, the cost on average is $5,000 and more. For larger projects, the cost of solar panel installation can run $12,000 to $40,000 and more depending on energy needs.
“I think solar power is great,” Fleming said. “I lived off the grid for 20 years, and it worked great.”
The key when installing solar, she added, is that it’s vital to get more than one bid on the project and compare the size of what is suggested against energy expectations.
Contractors’ bids, Fleming said, can vary a great deal.
Anyone considering solar should also consider how much solar will supplement energy load, the payback period against installation costs and available tax credits.
For an estimate of solar cost, savings and payback period based on location, visit the Solar Estimate website.
For more information email Fleming at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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