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Eighteen Utah communities are looking to take the next step toward clean electricity, but one – Ogden – may not go with them.
The Utah Community Renewable Energy Agency — created by the Utah Legislature in 2019 to allow Utah cities and counties to accelerate their conversion from fossil-fuel power — has signed off on an agreement to negotiate clean-power contracts with Rocky Mountain Power and perhaps others. The nine cities, six towns and three counties that opted into the program must now approve that agreement.
Mayor Mike Caldwell said he is “certainly in support of the goals” of the renewable energy program, which commits the communities to 100% “net-zero” electricity by 2030, but he still has concerns about what the cost might be for Ogden residents, and could send a letter withdrawing from the program.
“We’re not going to submit a letter now,” he said, adding that he is still waiting for more details on what it may cost residents.
Caldwell said one consideration is the progress Rocky Mountain and other utilities are making without the impetus of the Community Renewable Energy Agency. “We’ve had conversations with the utility companies, and they think they’re going to be accomplishing that in a similar timeframe.”
City Council Chair Angela Choberka, who has backed the renewable energy plan, said the fall municipal elections could produce significant change in Ogden City government. The mayor is not running for re-election, and a couple of city council members are among the seven mayoral candidates. If one of them wins, the city could also see three new council members.
“We’re just in a very volatile time in Ogden city,” Choberka said.
Choberka noted that a survey completed by Weber State University showed solid support among residents as long as the cost of participating is low enough.
Ogden has already paid about $70,000 toward the project, its share of an initial $750,000 investment all 18 cities, towns and counties have paid for preliminary work. Those efforts include hiring attorneys and a communications firm, Penna Powers, to produce messaging and ads. The agency’s board has signed off on a utility agreement that all entities must approve to move forward.
After that approval, the next step will be to prepare and file an application with the Utah Public Service Commission to approve the program. The PSC regulates electric utilities in Utah. After the PSC signs off, then the agency can begin to negotiate specific costs with Rocky Mountain and possibly with other clean-energy providers. That is expected to begin this fall.
Once the costs are known, the participating entities will have the option of withdrawing from the program.
In all scenarios, it’s expected that residents in the participating cities and counties will be asked to pay a little more for their power. How much more will depend on the negotiations, but the intent is to keep the difference to around $7 per month.
Residents of the participating communities will be automatically enrolled in the program, but they will have the option to opt out and continue to pay the normal rates for Rocky Mountain service. There will also be a low-income option for residents who qualify for assistance with their electric bills.
“At current projections of where that cost will be, we’re comfortable,” said Alexi Lamm, sustainability director for Moab city, which joins Grand County and tiny Castle Valley as the southeastern Utah component of the renewable group.
Lamm said participants want as many communities as possible to join them because the climate challenge is acute, but “Ogden and the people who live there should decide what’s best for them.”
The aim of the program is to contract for enough renewable power to equal 100% of the power consumed by residents in the cities and counties, but that won’t mean they’re getting only renewable power 24 hours a day. When the wind dies and the sun goes down, they’ll still be pulling fossil-fuel power.
But the program’s proponents say that is still faster progress toward a carbon-free electrical grid than Rocky Mountain has planned for its regular customers. Rocky Mountain has announced that it plans to shut down its big Utah coal plants by 2032, but that is dependent on rolling out nuclear power plants by then, which is an aggressive timetable for plants that have yet to seek federal approval.
“Salt Lakers following the climate science know that 2030 is a really important date by which we need to cut global emissions in half,” said Christopher Thomas, senior energy and climate program manager for Salt Lake City. “Renewable energy is an affordable way to reduce emissions, and we need a lot more of it to get on track.”
Thomas and others also expect that the eventual contracts with renewable energy providers could include energy storage to fill in the gaps in wind and solar.
“It’s definitely a step in the right direction to work toward net zero,” Lamm said. “Eventually storage will be a good complement for that.”
Choberka said the Community Renewable Agency board did sign off on a provision to allow Ogden to get back into the program if the city opts out. That would require a majority vote of Ogden’s council.
That would be good news to Dave Timmerman, who is part of Ogden 100 Community, an informal group that has pushed for Ogden’s participation, and who sees the urgency of climate change. “This is an existential problem for us. We can’t do nothing.”
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