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Ogden City Council nearing ‘crossroads’ on renewable energy program participation

By Mitch Shaw standard-Examiner - | Jul 7, 2021

OGDEN — The City Council is approaching a turning point in its deciding role over whether or not Ogden is to join Utah’s Community Renewable Energy program.

Ogden City Council Executive Director Janene Eller-Smith said the council is scheduled to vote July 13 on a resolution that would ensure the city’s participation in the development of the rate structure associated with the program. Approval of the resolution would also mean appropriating $35,738 in city funds toward the effort.

While Eller-Smith described the council’s upcoming decision as a “crossroads” in the legislative body’s ultimate decision on whether or not to join, she noted that the council could choose to forego the resolution and subsequent appropriation and continue to monitor the program from the sidelines, without official participation or cost, until Jan. 31, 2022. That’s when a joint utility agreement with Rocky Mountain Power that finalizes terms of the deal between the participating communities and the power company would be forged. The deal would ultimately be reviewed by the Utah Public Service Commission.

First introduced with House Bill 411, the renewable energy effort is the ambitious clean-energy program adopted by the Utah Legislature during 2019’s general session. The bill calls for Utah cities that choose to participate to move to a net 100% electric energy use from renewable resources by 2030. In December 2019, the council voted 5-2 to adopt a resolution that established a citywide goal to transition to net 100% renewable energy by the target date. The vote also signaled the city’s intent to consider the program as the channel to reach that goal.

Essentially, the program creates an avenue for Utah cities to join together to increase power generation through environmentally friendly, renewable means that would ultimately be produced by Rocky Mountain Power. The program has many supporters, and Ogden proponents have been vocal about the benefits of the plan throughout the city’s involvement in the process. Supporters say power in numbers will come if enough communities join the program and prompt Rocky Mountain Power to build more renewable energy production facilities, thereby reducing dependence on fossil fuels, like coal, which can harm the environment.

But several members of the council have expressed concerns over the potential of increased power rates by moving to renewable resources and, notably, how that could impact lower-income Ogden residents. The program includes an opt-out provision, allowing individuals to stay with whatever standard rates are in place, but among other things, city officials have expressed concerns that some residents not interested in the issue would miss the notices on how to opt out.

“I still have some pause and skepticism about how much this is going to cost residents — I’m all for the concept and what … the goal is, I’m just really concerned about the costs,” said Ogden Council member Ben Nadolski. “What is the quantifiable improvement to our environment, to our air quality, to our healthy living … and how much does that cost? That’s where I’m really struggling.”

Eller-Smith said the council’s pending decision is basically to “have a seat at the table” when negotiating rates associated with the program with Rocky Mountain Power and the other cities. If the council opts to adopt the resolution, and then continues in the program further, another $35,738 would be due from the city by July 31, 2022. Eller-Smith said appropriations toward the program are not refundable.

Council Vice Chair Marcia White and Council member Angela Choberka both said they think having a chance to actively participate in the process now makes sense.

“I think it’s worth the investment to get a seat at the table … versus just watching,” Choberka said.

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