Ben Grimmig: Utahns must speak out for a cleaner, more sustainable energy plan

Outside of our home, protecting my son often feels out of my control.

(Al Hartmann | The Salt Lake Tribune) A coal truck leaves the coal-fired Hunter Power Plant just south of Castle Dale, Utah on Oct. 23, 2009.

This October, my wife and I are expecting our first child. A baby boy. Like a lot of expectant parents, we are busy preparing the house for his arrival. Converting an office space to a nursery, filling drawers with cute baby outfits and purchasing all the necessary items that will keep him healthy and safe when we first bring him home.

However, outside of our home, protecting my son often feels out of my control.

Earlier in 2023, the United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) stated that the world is likely to surpass a catastrophic warming threshold unless economies and nations take drastic actions to curb carbon emissions. And we happen to be at an incredibly important inflection point at this very moment in Utah. The air my son will breathe, the snow he sees in the mountains and the well-being of the planet that he and his generation will inherit hangs in the balance.

Recently, PacifiCorp, the parent company of Utah’s energy provider, Rocky Mountain Power, released its 2023 Integrated Resource Plan (IRP). This document lays out the company’s 20-year vision for meeting customer demands and decarbonization commitments across its six-state service region. Unfortunately, this most recent plan from PacifiCorp does not do enough to prioritize the health of our communities or our planet. Rather, PacifiCorp opted for cheaper and less effective pollutant removers to be installed at its existing coal plants, and intends to offset energy production from carbon emitters with nuclear power.

Utah’s Hunter and Huntington coal plants are some of the worst polluting in the West, impacting public health, and contributing to the climate crisis. PacifiCorp has decided to install Selective Non-Catalytic Reduction (SNCR) equipment at these facilities, despite the fact that they would be significantly less effective at reducing pollution than other available and cost effective controls, like Selective Catalytic Reduction (SCR). In the short-term, this plan represents more of the same — dirty energy production harming our air quality and hastening the impacts of climate change. Coal power plants are some of the most significant contributors of greenhouse gas emissions, and our ability to combat the impacts of climate change is predicated upon reducing our reliance on coal. Yet, PacifiCorp has opted to prioritize short-term profits over our health and meaningful climate action.

While the latest IRP does show PacifiCorp closing the Hunter and Huntington coal-fired power plants sooner than previously forecasted, it introduces plans to install nuclear facilities at these sites following retirement. In the long-term, this plan amounts to nothing more than several risky gambles that Rocky Mountain Power would have its customers fund. It’s gambling that the energy output from historical coal plants can be replaced by nuclear energy on time and on budget. And these plans are an even bigger gamble on the health and safety of our communities, as nuclear power generation is fraught with danger. Most notably, the U.S. government does not have a storage solution, and dangerous nuclear waste from these plants would have to be stored on site and in our backyard. If and when these gambles fail to pan out, it will be our health, our communities and our environment stuck facing the consequences of PacifiCorp’s actions.

Conversations around climate change often stall and create apathy because the staggering size of the problem can be overwhelming. How can one person, one company, one state or even one nation influence a problem taking place on a global scale? Yet, I truly believe that it is the actions of each individual, whether that be through personal choices or advocacy, that will bring about a brighter, more sustainable future. PacifiCorp’s IRP will shape the energy future of our region for the next two decades, and it is incumbent upon us as citizens and stewards of our state to ensure that our voices are heard.

To take action in support of a cleaner, more sustainable energy plan in Utah, Rocky Mountain Power customers can submit a comment to the Public Service Commission by including Docket No: 23-035-10. We need the Public Service Commission to invest in clean energy. The health of our children, our communities and our planet is all at stake.

(Ben Grimmig)

Ben Grimmig is a resident of Salt Lake City and works in the solar industry. He is a member of the Utah Needs Clean Energy (UNCE) group and an outdoor enthusiast who enjoys exploring Utah’s many natural wonders.