See which 18 Utah communities are leading the way on clean power

The agreement allows them to become 100% renewable for all residents by 2030.

(Trent Nelson | The Salt Lake Tribune) Wind turbines spin amid solar panels north of Milford on Tuesday, October 5, 2021. Eighteen Utah communities have elected a state agency that will accelerate the transition to renewable electricity for their residents.

This story is part of The Salt Lake Tribune’s ongoing commitment to finding solutions to Utah’s biggest challenges through the work of the Innovation Lab.

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About a quarter of Rocky Mountain Power’s customers in Utah purchase 100% renewable electricity from the Community Renewable Energy Agency, a public agency created by the Legislature and the first of its kind in the United States.

Under the Utah Community Renewable Energy Act of 2019, 18 Utah cities and counties have committed to allow the agency to negotiate with Rocky Mountain to enable all of their residents to purchase clean, renewable electricity by 2030. The plan required legislation to allow the Utah Public Service Commission to regulate the group separately and allow different tariffs.

(Christopher Cherrington | The Salt Lake Tribune)

Utah communities had until May 31 to commit to joining the agency. 23 institutions have signed up for the early phase, but five have dropped out. That leaves three counties, nine cities and six townships stretching from Springdale to Ogden to Moab.

Those who pay for 100% renewable electricity are essentially paying to have that clean electricity fed into the grid. All share the same power grid, so in practice there will still be times when renewable customers source electricity from fossil fuels. Still, the Community Renewable Energy Agency’s commitment to clean power should accelerate the transition across the grid. In other words, these communities are at the forefront of converting clean electricity.

“Not only is this program the first of its kind in Utah. It is the first of its kind in the United States,” said Salt Lake City Mayor Erin Mendenhall. “Together with Rocky Mountain Power, our communities are building the clean energy infrastructure we need to ensure our children and grandchildren have healthy and prosperous futures. At a time when collaboration and good news seems hard to come by, across Utah we work together to get things done.”

Utah’s second largest community, West Valley City, was among those not committing to the next step. First-year mayor Karen Lang said at the time the plan had too many uncertainties about costs.

“I don’t think we have enough solid information from Rocky Mountain as to what it would cost residents,” she said. “They just don’t have details or they don’t share them. And that’s why I don’t feel comfortable committing our residents to anything without full information.”

A 2017 study done for Summit County estimated that renewable tariffs are 9% to 14% higher than regular tariffs, but renewable energy costs have since fallen.

“I strongly expect it will be less,” said Christopher Thomas, senior energy and climate program manager for Salt Lake City.

Residents of participating cities and towns can opt out of the program and remain on the old rates if they wish. Thomas said the entities will have the same process to notify residents and give them a process to opt out. He said they will have all the prices before they make the decision and they have a five month window to decide.

There is no minimum number of residents that must participate for cities and towns to remain in the program.

Thomas said the new agency hired an energy law firm and consultant to negotiate the details of the program with Rocky Mountain Power, including a tariff plan. Rocky Mountain Power is expected to submit a program application to the Public Service Commission later this year, and the PSC will need to approve the tariff plan.

Municipalities must each issue ordinances to proceed. Thomas said the program could start as early as 2023.

The agency’s communities are Alta, Castle Valley, Emigration Canyon, Francis, Kearns and Springdale. The cities are Coalville, Cottonwood Heights, Holladay, Millcreek, Moab, Oakley, Ogden, Park City and Salt Lake City. The counties are Grand, Salt Lake and Summit. The participation of the districts refers to unincorporated areas outside of cities.

Tim Fitzpatrick is a renewable energy reporter for The Salt Lake Tribune, a position funded by a grant from Rocky Mountain Power. The Tribune retains overall control of editorial decisions independent of Rocky Mountain Power. See which 18 Utah communities are leading the way on clean power

Joel McCord

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