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"Maybe we could protect existing customers, but it would take considerable time to work this through, and I wonder if there aren’t better models," Beck said.
She wants to see power users have choice, but said recent experience has shown that such "open access" states have higher rates. For example, Utahns pay on average 10.1 cents per kilowatt hour versus the 16.8 cents in California, according to RMP.
Powering the utility
As of 2012, 59 percent of the power Rocky Mountain Power delivered came from coal. But that share is projected to drop to 49 percent by 2022, as the utility retires and converts parts of its coal fleet.
About 15 percent of the utility’s power comes from renewable sources, much of it from wind farms in Wyoming. Other power is purchased by the company.
‘Demanding more options’ » Because of these concerns, lawmakers holstered HB110 for interim study. The bill hopes to build on a law enacted two years ago that allows large businesses to buy green power delivered through RMP’s network.
Powell, the sponsor, wants to expand that provision to enable cities and counties to pool such purchases for their residents.
The original law was tailor-made for eBay, which wanted to power its new South Jordan data center from a carbon-free source.
That was easy to implement because there is direct link between the customer and the supplier, David Taylor, RMP’s director of regulatory affairs, told lawmakers last week.
"SB12 required the customers to bear all the costs. A key provision was to segregate the power and you have to do it hour by hour, not aggregate it at the end of the month," he said. "It’s challenging when a customer is buying service from multiple suppliers. It doesn’t mean it cannot be done, but it’s very challenging."
Other Utah companies have yet to use the law to buy green power. Powdr Corp. would like to, Giles said, but the two-megawatt purchase threshold has turned out to be an obstacle.
Giles would like the state to mandate the utilities to get a certain share of their power from renewable sources, but such an idea is politically unpalatable in market-oriented states such as Utah.
Advocates for reform say the costs of wind, solar and geothermal power will become more favorable as their use grows.
"While it is more expensive now, prices are dropping, while prices for traditional sources are rising," said Vicki Bennett, Salt Lake City’s sustainability director. "Our citizens are demanding more options. Businesses looking to relocate to our region are asking for options. We want to be part of this."
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