After success in Salt Lake City, an innovative way to reduce the cost of solar panels is coming to Utah Valley.

A group of Salt Lake County residents and business owners cut the cost of solar by 40 percent by joining together in a group purchase. The plan worked so well that a second group is doing it again -- and this time, Utah County and Park City are being invited to join.

Utah Valley Earth Forum has convinced the northern group to expand its offer locally and will host a public information meeting about the program today at the Provo Library.

"This is a spin-off of an effort done recently in Salt Lake City and being repeated in Salt Lake City now. This is sort of phase two," said Jim Westwater of Spanish Fork, who is chairman of Utah Valley Earth Forum. "The idea is to bring together individuals, businesses, government officials -- whoever is interested in solar power for their home or business, government building or church."

One of the major hurdles of going solar is the upfront cost, but by joining in a large bulk purchase, individuals and families get a bulk discount. Think of it as the Costco method of buying solar, Westwater said.

There is no specific manufacturer in mind. Rather, once it is clear how many people are interested in participating, requests for proposals will be prepared by the group and manufacturers will be invited to bid. The group will choose the lowest bidder, if the bid is acceptable.

There is no obligation to anyone coming to the informational meeting, and the process will not happen overnight. Instead, it will take months and several meetings. The group also is planning to invite the county, the sewer district and other local agencies to explore the idea.

"It took a while for them to get a large enough commitment of individuals and businesses in Salt Lake City," Westwater said.

The price of solar panels has been falling, and interest in solar power is growing. Solar technology is now so mainstream that local Costco stores sold out of some models of solar panels and solar charging kits during the Christmas season.

"Energy scientists have predicted we will need twice as much energy by 2050 than we use now, primarily because China and India want to live the way we live," said Mark Thomas, a public financing adviser with Clifton Consulting, who will be one of the presenters at the Provo meeting on Wednesday. "Our energy prices will double in the next 10 years. Rocky Mountain just increased their price 6 percent."

With the gray air that has been polluting Utah Valley for a couple weeks now, interest in clean energy should be piqued, Westwater said. The personal and environmental consequences of pollution have been clear in the local air.

The public information meeting about a group solar purchase will be held at the Provo Library at 7 p.m. today in Room 201. For information, visit

-- Caleb Warnock covers 11 cities in north Utah County and is also the Daily Herald's environmental reporter. You can find him on Facebook and at
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