The Utah Inland Port Authority announced Wednesday that it had signed a contract with Rocky Mountain Power to create a sustainable energy supply within the Salt Lake City area that’s planned to become a massive import and export trading hub.
The agreement is “one of the first concrete steps” the inland port authority has been able to demonstrate its commitment to sustainability, port authority Executive Director Jack Hedge said in an interview Wednesday.
And it’s one he hopes will help ease fears among project opponents, who have organized several high-profile protests in recent months aimed at its possible impacts on the state’s already poor air quality and the bird habitat and ecosystem near the Great Salt Lake.
“This is the first opportunity really that we’ve had to show what we’re going to do and how we’re going to do things,” he said. “This is the first step in sort of building that history of how we’re going to conduct our business and that we are going to build out a sustainable, smart project.”
The agreement with Rocky Mountain Power, signed late last month, outlines both partners’ commitment to developing the inland port area in the capital city’s northwest side as an “environmentally responsible and sustainable manner” and toward advancing energy solutions that will reduce pollution and greenhouse gas emissions of future and current activities.
That will include “working to develop solutions to meet future electrical energy needs with net 100% renewable energy, planning for electrification of freight, cargo and logistics equipment and focused efforts on energy efficiency programs,” the contract states.
Rocky Mountain Power will now begin studying the feasibility and cost-effectiveness of electric energy from renewable resources, suitable renewable energy generation projects to support sustainable development and to begin developing plans to electrify vehicles and facilities that operate within the area.
Agreements and approvals on specific projects will be announced as the work moves forward, the port authority said in the release.
Salt Lake City Mayor Erin Mendenhall, who has said she views the port as an inevitability and has promised to work toward ensuring it is developed in a sustainable way, also praised the agreement with Rocky Mountain Power in a statement Wednesday.
“This is one step toward realizing the potential of this port to become a leading example of a cutting edge, clean, and sustainable development,” she said.
But Deeda Seed, a campaigner with the Center for Biological Diversity and an organizer with the Stop the Polluting Port Coalition, expressed mistrust about the agreement, which she worries is “more happy talk” about sustainability that won’t actually happen.
“It does not match at all what’s happening on the ground," she said, pointing to 6 million square feet of new warehouse space Northwest Quadrant LLC is currently constructing in the area to serve diesel trucks. "There’s a complete disconnect between the language and the reality that we’re facing on the ground right now. And so it makes us very skeptical about anything from the port authority.”
News of the agreement comes ahead of the port board’s unveiling of a strategic business plan later this month that will outline how private land within the 16,0000-acre area will develop. And while that plan will be more of a high-level overview, Hedge said the Rocky Mountain Power agreement can be seen “as kind of a preview" of what the board wants to accomplish.
“This is step one in the process," he said.
The board is scheduled to receive a briefing on its long-awaited strategic plan May 27 — the first public convening since its October meeting was disrupted by protesters — and will vote on whether to approve it in June, a spokeswoman with the port authority said earlier this week.
Mendenhall recently gained a seat on the 11-member inland port board through legislation passed in the lawmaking session earlier this year. But she said Wednesday that she didn’t know whether she would personally be at the upcoming meeting.
“I’ve been considering options" about who will fill that seat, “including myself,” she said. “But ultimately we’re waiting due to a drafting error in the statute revision that would disqualify many options.”