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Op-ed: Rocky Mountain Power stuck in coal-centric mentality

By michael rossetti and melanie florence

First Published Apr 05 2014 01:01 am • Last Updated Apr 05 2014 01:01 am

Most people trust their electric company. We flip a switch; the light comes on. An outage occurs; the power company fixes it. We don’t ask many questions; "They’ll do the right thing."

Part of "doing the right thing" is promoting efforts to reduce carbon emissions and investing in renewable energy.

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Unfortunately, Rocky Mountain Power is stuck in a coal-centric mentality and actively discouraging private consumer investment in renewable energy. Yes, coal is critical and we cannot just pull the plug on coal-powered electricity generation, but RMP is doing little to move into a future where coal and natural gas are not the predominant sources of electricity.

Ask yourself, "Where is our power coming from?" The answer is simple: most electricity comes from burning fossil fuels. Why? PacifiCorp, RMP’s parent company, profits doubly from coal: first on its coal-mining operations, and second from burning it.

There is little incentive for PacifiCorp to pursue less-polluting alternatives. Each kilowatt-hour of electricity generated from coal produces over 2 pounds of CO2 while polluting our air, land, and water.

Meanwhile, Utahns clearly favor renewable energy: 90,000 participate in RMP’s Blue Sky program and over 2,000, using their own money, have installed residential solar photovoltaic panels.

RMP may claim that it is solidly committed to renewable energy by promoting the Blue Sky program and announcing an intention to build a small 2-megawatt (MW) solar farm in southern Utah. This potential 2 MW mini-facility would provide only enough power for about 400 homes — a token investment in renewable energy — and only as much electricity as produced by one of the nine privately owned wind turbines in Spanish Fork Canyon.

So why is RMP proposing a $4.25 per month surcharge, about $1,500 over the lifetime of a typical home solar installation, on the very citizens who make personal investments in renewable energy? RMP’s residential customers who install solar panels are giving energy to the grid by net-metering when it’s needed the most — during the daytime. RMP has over 1 million customers but want to penalize the 2,000-plus who have invested in solar.

The short answer: RMP has no solid commitment to generating and selling renewable energy in Utah. Seventy-five percent of the power RMP generates comes from burning fossil fuel, and less than 10 percent from wind, solar and geothermal sources.

RMP-PacifiCorp doesn’t own any wind or solar facilities in Utah, and RMP’s own 10-year energy plan does not mention any new utility-scale wind or solar projects. The only solar energy currently being generated on RMP’s grid in Utah is by citizens and businesses that have used their own money to install solar panels.

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Bottom line: RMP’s proposed net-metering monthly charge will actively discourage any additional consumer investment in solar.

How can you help? Tell the Public Service Commission that we want to encourage citizen investment in clean solar generation, not discourage it with meaningless penalties. The easy way to do this is to visit the my-energy-choice.org website. Or send the PSC an email at psc@utah.gov with "Docket 13-035-184" in the subject line. Let the PSC know you care about healthy energy alternatives, clean air, and reduced reliance on fossil fuels. Encourage your neighbors to express their desire for cleaner air and renewable energy, too.

Other suggestions: Support organizations such as HEAL. Band together with friends and neighbors — as we did with UCARE — to say, "Enough!"

Michael Rossetti and Melanie Florence are founding members of Utah Citizens Advocating Renewable Energy and operate home solar panels in Draper and Ivins, respectively.

Copyright 2014 The Salt Lake Tribune. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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