Salt Lake City residents may be able to power their computers, refrigerators and TV sets with net-100% renewable energy sooner than originally promised thanks to a bill passed by the state Legislature earlier this year.
City leaders and environmental advocates on Monday celebrated the move, which would likely increase costs for consumers to some degree but decrease a large portion of the city’s environmental footprint. Still, some mayoral hopefuls are criticizing even the expedited timeline as not aggressive enough.
Rep. Steve Handy’s HB411 will create a framework for municipalities like Salt Lake City, Park City and Moab to work with the power company toward the goal of providing net 100% renewable energy by 2030. This would mean Rocky Mountain Power would produce at least as much renewable energy as the city uses in a year.
“As I have spoken with my colleagues in other cities, many have asked me, ‘How are you going to reach your goal?’” Salt Lake City Mayor Jackie Biskupski said at a news conference with local government and environmental groups that coincided with Earth Day. “Well, the answer to that is on display today. Leaders from a variety of communities and from various political backgrounds standing with our electricity provider alongside our local and environmental nonprofits, all focused on the same goal: to create a new standard for communities.”
As part of its clean energy efforts, Salt Lake City also used the occasion Monday to unveil eight new electric vehicle charging ports at 500 South near the Leonardo Museum, at the Regional Athletic Complex and the Mountain Dell Golf Course. There are now 38 charging ports across the city, plus 24 at the airport.
Salt Lake City in 2016 passed a resolution to run on renewable energy by 2032 and will now expedite that goal to 2030 through the program with Rocky Mountain Power, facilitated through the new law, HB411. The law sets rates and terms of service for the program.
But as city leaders and lawmakers took a victory lap Monday, a number of candidates in the crowded race for Salt Lake City mayor have staked out early claims on a more aggressive timeline for reaching 100% net zero energy.
The most aggressive plan so far comes from David Garbett, who worked as a staff attorney at the Southern Utah Wilderness Alliance for 10 years and most recently served as the executive director of the Pioneer Park Coalition.
In a blog post on his campaign website, Garbett says he would work if elected to ensure the city would be powered by carbon free energy by the end of his first term in 2023 — a full decade sooner than the city’s original plan.
“The city’s original goal, 2032, just in my mind didn’t line up with science and wasn’t serious and is not commensurate with the problem,” Garbett told The Salt Lake Tribune on Monday. “I mean, the United Nations just put out a report that said if we’re not well on our way by 2030 to deep decarbonization of our economy, then we are really in for a lot of trouble.”
Salt Lake City Councilwoman Erin Mendenhall, who currently serves as the chairwoman of the state Air Quality Board, has said that as mayor she would work to expedite the city’s plan to become 100 percent powered by renewable energy by 2030 instead of the original goal of 2032.
Former Salt Lake City Councilman Stan Penfold advocates on his campaign website for the city to “take bolder action and make the hard choices needed to truly make a lasting impact.” In an interview with The Tribune on Monday, Penfold said he’s still formulating policy around what that would look like but thinks the city should take a hard look at accelerating its renewable energy plans.
“What I liked about our 2032 goal was that it was a really good, comprehensive process,” he said. “I think we need to do a similar process again and see if we can move that deadline forward so we have those goals sooner rather than later.”
Additionally, Penfold said he thinks the city should do everything it can to incentivize electric vehicles and residential solar panels.
Biskupski, who is not running for reelection, said Monday that it can be easy for candidates to advocate for a faster approach but argues the 2030 goal is the most aggressive and realistic plan for the current energy and governmental landscape.
Additionally, she says employing a gradual approach to shift away from coal will reduce the rate shock customers will receive, though estimates for how much more consumers will pay have varied.
“As we work through details and maybe as things change at the federal level, we might see a partnership evolve there and then maybe we can move faster,” Biskupski said. “But until then, we all have to remember it is the users of our power who have to pay off the old resource and bring on the new one.”
Garbett argues a more ambitious renewable energy plan would be cheaper than expected based on current market rates. And while solar may have an initial spike, he says it will be affordable for consumers in the long run.
“Renewable energy cost particularly with solar has fallen so much faster than anyone has predicted," he said.
As some mayoral candidates push for faster change in Salt Lake City, Handy, R-Layton, said he expects cities around the state will sign on to the “groundbreaking” 2030 renewable energy goal. Under HB411, cities can choose to opt into the program with Rocky Mountain Power by Dec. 31.
“This legislation removes barriers and provides a framework for which this really great initiative can go forward,” he said.
Gov. Gary Herbert signed HB411 into law late last month, along with a slate of other clean air bills after lawmakers appropriated more than $28 million toward efforts to clear the skies earlier this year. The Public Service Commission, which is scheduled to meet next month, still needs to sign off on the plan.
Correction: Updated at 7:30 a.m. on April 23 >> An earlier version of this story misstated when Gov. Gary Herbert signed HB411. It was at the end of last month.