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Power by the people: Murray celebrates 100 years of operating own utility
Energy » Community is one of 39 in Utah that provides electricity to its residents, businesses.

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Rocky Mountain Power has an open-access transmission system and it operates independently from the company’s other businesses, said Jeff Hymas, a spokesman for the utility. "So we are willing to serve municipalities and other customers" throughout the region.

From 100 years ago fast-forward to today, and city-owned electric utilities are still being set up when for whatever reasons big investor-owned power companies decide not to operate in a particular community, said Nick Braden. He’s a spokesman for the American Public Power Association, an organization that represents the interest of the nation’s more than 2,000 community-owned electric utilities.

At a glance

Where Murray gets its electricity

Coal-fired plants — 50 percent

Hydro power — 25 percent

Landfill gas — 12 percent

Natural gas — 6 percent

Spot market* — 7 percent

*Percentage depends upon spot market price versus cost of running natural gas turbines.

Source: Murray City Power

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There have been few new community-owned electric utilities organized in the U.S. in recent years — only 16 in the past decade — according to the APPA.

"But when they are the reasons remain the same as always," Braden said. "Those communities want electrical service, and the investor-owned utilities just don’t want to serve those areas."

And that was the case with Eagle Mountain, a fast-growing community in Utah County. The state’s youngest municipally owned utility began offering service to residents in 1997 and today provides electricity to about 5,600 customers.

"When it came down to it, Rocky Mountain Power wasn’t interested in serving us at the time," said Eagle Mountain Mayor Heather Jackson. "We had to do it ourselves. And although our rates right now are a little higher than what Rocky Mountain Power customers pay, it’s because we’re so young and still in the process of paying back the debt that we took on to build our system."

Hymas said that before Rocky Mountain Power will extend service to any community it must determine that it makes economic sense, both for the company and its existing ratepayers, who ultimately will pay the cost of expanding the utility’s distribution system through the rates they pay.

Jackson said one of the big pluses of Eagle Mountain operating its own public utility is knowing that the system is being operated strictly for the benefit of the community’s residents.

"Our destiny is in our own hands and not influenced by the shareholders" of an investor-owned utility.


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