SNOHOMISH, Wash. - On the roof of the new headquarters for tree trimming and vegetation management company Kemp West sits a large array of solar panels.

It cost $140,000 to install, said company president Kari Hakso, but between federal tax breaks and incentives provided by the state of Washington and Snohomish County's Public Utility District, the net cost will be closer to $50,000.

We discovered that we would have a payback period of six and one half years, said Hakso. At which point this is producing electricity at no cost for the company.

In other words, effectively no-cost power to run the energy efficient lighting in the office, the heat pump, even extensive security lighting in the equipment yard.

Incentives are a big part of why the utility has doubled its solar output in the last 18 months and would like to see those numbers keep growing.

On the one hand you would think a utility would not be trying to put itself out of business, and it's not. Renewables like solar have become a new form of power plant, and building solar is considered a lot cheaper than constructing a massive carbon producing coal plant or another dam on the Columbia River, which few in the industry believes will ever happen.

Ninety-percent of Snohomish County PUD's power still comes from hydro-electric dams and another eight percent from wind. Solar is now around one percent, but growing rapidly. All the while electrical demand is going up from everything consumers are using, from new high definition TVs to computer server farms.

Surplus solar power is purchased by the utility and sold to other customers when it's needed. Snohomish County PUD is betting that by growing the solar industry through demand, the cost of panels and installation will drop, meaning incentives will no longer be needed.

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