Trevor Jones, Tom Moyer and Lindsay Beebe: Utah cities have a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to slow climate change

Tell your city councils that you want them to opt in to the state’s renewable energy plan.

Courtesy | sPower The Latigo Wind Park, recently built by Sustainable Power Group outside Monticello, is one of several renewable energy projects completed in Utah with the help of the Public Utility Policy Regulation Act, or PURPA, which requires Rocky Mountain Power and other monopoly utilities to purchase power from "qualifying facilities" like these.

This year, the world’s leading climate scientists warned that we need to move quickly to reduce global CO2 emissions, or our planet faces a bleak future. Sadly, we already have a once-in-a-generation drought in Utah that threatens our beautiful desert home, and a drastic uptick in wildfires that casts a haze across our beautiful landscape on many summer and autumn days.

Many people feel paralyzed, thinking they can’t do much. Most wait and hope: either that it will get better somehow, or that we’ll get an opportunity to do something. For those of us in the second category, our opportunity is finally here, it’s bold, and it meets the challenge ahead of us with an innovative solution. In 2019, the Utah Legislature passed HB 411. It gives a pathway for Utah cities and towns to switch to 100% renewable energy by 2030 — that is solar, wind and other carbon-free sources. Residents would be defaulted into the renewable energy program, but they could opt-out easily, for instance by checking a box on their utility bill.

The process for cities to join the program is somewhat complex and involves each municipality opting in on three separate occasions. The first occurred in late 2019, when a total of 23 cities and counties throughout the state formally began the process. The second is now: Cities need to signal their continued interest in the process by formally joining an “interlocal agreement” (basically an agreement to act together to procure the clean power) and making a token payment to help fund additional studies.

The deadline for this is by January 2022. Crucially, some of the largest eligible cities have not yet opted in, including West Valley City, West Jordan, Orem and others. Meanwhile, Ogden — a city that had been on the brink of pulling out earlier — reconsidered and opted in. Currently, 14 of the 23 eligible cities have committed, representing about 20% of Rocky Mountain Power’s Utah energy load.

No other public program in sight even approaches the scope and scale for clean energy of HB 411. Some approximate calculations show that, for each resident who participates, we may slash up to 2.3 tons of CO2 emissions each year. When you multiply that by how many people live in these communities, the scale for reductions becomes clear – it’s huge. While this program won’t singlehandedly put an end to global warming overnight, it is the kind of meaningful and important step that is needed.

You can help. With HB 411, the average citizen really has a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to contribute in a big way. Concerned citizen groups have been working hard for years to explain HB 411 to the various cities’ respective councils and convince them of its benefits. Our concern is that some are losing the will to move forward with this program.

It’s crucial that they hear from you. If you live in one of the cities that has taken the first step toward HB 411, but not yet continued with the interlocal agreement – West Valley City, West Jordan, Orem, Bluffdale, Coalville, Kamas, Oakley or Emigration Canyon – please reach out to your city councilperson today. Email is great, but a phone call is better. Contact information is available on each city’s website. And for more information about the HB 411 process, you can contact Lindsay Beebe at Lindsay.beebe@sierraclub.org.

Together, we can show our cities and towns that we want a cleaner future with renewable energy – we can show them we want HB 411.

Trevor Jones is a volunteer and member of Citizens Climate Lobby. He is also the lead structural engineer at Solgen Power, a regional solar installation company. He was a county delegate in the 2018 Salt Lake GOP Convention.

Tom Moyer is the state coordinator for Citizens Climate Lobby, a nonpartisan grassroots organization dedicated to advocating for climate solutions at local and national levels. In this capacity, he coordinates the activities of Utah’s six CCL chapters and Climate Utah.

Lindsay Beebe is a senior coordinating representative with Sierra Club and its Beyond Coal campaign. She had headed organizing efforts in several cities to encourage city leadership to join into the HB 411 process.