Ogden is still on the renewable energy program, but the wind could change

The mayor says no decision has been made yet, and wonders if the utilities aren’t moving fast enough on their own.

(Trent Nelson | The Salt Lake Tribune) Downtown Ogden and Washington Blvd, on Thursday, August 4, 2022. Ogden is a member of the Utah Community Renewable Energy Agency but may leave the group.

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Eighteen Utah communities want to take the next step toward clean electricity, but one — Ogden — may not follow suit.

The Utah Community Renewable Energy Agency — created by the Utah legislature in 2019 to help Utah cities and counties accelerate their transition to fossil-fuel energy — has signed an agreement to negotiate clean power contracts with Rocky Mountain Power and potentially others . The nine cities, six cities and three counties that have opted into the program must now agree to this agreement.

Mayor Mike Caldwell said he “certainly supports the goals” of the renewable energy program, which commits communities to producing 100% “net-zero” electricity by 2030, but he still has concerns about the cost of doing so who could be residents of Ogden, and could send a letter withdrawing from the program.

“We will not be submitting a letter now,” he said, adding that he is still awaiting further details on the potential cost to residents.

Caldwell said one consideration is the progress Rocky Mountain and other energy providers are making without the impetus of the Community Renewable Energy Agency. “We have had discussions with the utilities and they believe they will achieve this in a similar timeframe.”

City Council Chairwoman Angela Choberka, who has backed the renewable energy plan, said the fall local election could result in significant changes in Ogden City’s government. The mayor is not standing for re-election, and the seven mayoral candidates include a number of city councillors. Should either of them win, the city could also see three new council members.

“We’re going through a very volatile time in the city of Ogden right now,” Choberka said.

Choberka noted that a survey conducted by Weber State University showed solid support among residents as long as the cost of participation is low enough.

Ogden has already paid approximately $70,000 for the project, its share of an initial $750,000 investment paid by all 18 cities, townships and counties for the preliminary work. Those efforts include hiring lawyers and a communications firm, Penna Powers, to create news and ads. The agency’s board of directors has signed a supply agreement that all companies must agree to in order to move forward.

After this approval, the next step is to prepare and submit an application for approval of the program to the Utah Public Service Commission. The PSC regulates the power supply in Utah. After approval by the PSC, the agency can begin negotiating specific costs with Rocky Mountain and possibly other clean energy providers. This is expected to start in the fall.

Once the costs are known, participating companies have the option to opt out of the program.

(Christopher Cherrington | The Salt Lake Tribune)

In all scenarios, it is expected that the residents of the participating cities and counties will have to pay a little more for their electricity. How much more will depend on negotiations, but the intent is to limit the difference to around $7 a month.

Residents of participating communities are automatically enrolled in the program, but have the option to opt out and continue to pay normal Rocky Mountain service rates. There will also be an option for low-income residents who are eligible for assistance with their utility bills.

“We’re comfortable with current projections of what those costs will be,” said Alexi Lamm, sustainability director for the city of Moab, which along with Grand County and tiny Castle Valley makes up the southeastern component of Utah’s renewable energy group.

Lamm said attendees 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 electricity from renewable sources to cover 100% of the electricity needs of the inhabitants of the cities and counties. However, that does not mean that they only use renewable electricity 24/7. When the wind dies down and the sun goes down, they still get electricity from fossil fuels.

But proponents of the program say it’s still faster progress towards a zero-carbon power grid than Rocky Mountain envisioned for its regular customers. Rocky Mountain has announced that it plans to shut down its large coal-fired power plants in Utah by 2032. However, this is dependent on nuclear power plants being commissioned by then.

“Salt Lakers, who follow climate science, know that 2030 is a really important date by which we need to halve global emissions,” 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 the right track.”

Chris Detrick | The Salt Lake Tribune Salt Lake City is part of the Utah Community Renewable Energy Agency — established by the Utah legislature in 2019 to help Utah cities and counties accelerate their transition away from fossil fuels. Rooftop solar panels are displayed at the city’s public security building on May 10, 2016.

Thomas and others also anticipate that eventual deals with renewable energy providers could include energy storage to fill the gaps in wind and solar.

“Working toward net zero is definitely a step in the right direction,” Lamm said. “Eventually, storage will be a good addition to that.”

Choberka said the board of the Community Renewable Agency has approved a provision that will allow Ogden to get back into the program if the city opts out. That would require a majority vote in Ogden Council.

That would be good news for Dave Timmerman, who is part of the Ogden 100 Community, an informal group that has campaigned for Ogden’s participation and recognizes the urgency of climate change. “This is an existential problem for us. We can not do anything.”

Editor’s Note • This story is available only to Salt Lake Tribune subscribers. Thank you for supporting local journalism.

Justin Scaccy

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