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These bills are poised to set the tone in Utah’s energy policy

Lawmakers have passed legislation to establish strategies, innovation and incentives

By Alixel Cabrera - Utah News Dispatch | Feb 20, 2024

Spenser Heaps, Utah News Dispatch

Wind turbines generate electricity at the mouth of Spanish Fork Canyon on Sunday, Feb. 4, 2024.

A conglomerate of bills passing through the Legislature are setting the tone for the future of Utah’s energy strategy. Big pieces are poised to become law, introducing policy that would favor already established resources and approach federal rules and incentives with a skeptical eye.

The Republican supermajority has made it a priority to look into preserving the state’s resources while aiming to achieve an approach that takes other cleaner sources into account. But, for others, that means prioritizing coal-powered plants and obstructing the evolution of renewables.

St. George Republican Rep. Colin Jack is sponsoring some of the most prominent energy bills this session, creating guidelines for the state’s energy policy, including preventing the early retirement of generators unless they are replaced with others of equal or greater capability.

Those who say his bills are giving extra preference to coal “have either misunderstood or deliberately misrepresented” his intentions, he said, as he believes the state needs a broad portfolio of resources.

“The best energy portfolio would have baseload generation, like coal and nuclear, and some nice peaking-chasing generation, like some simple cycle natural gas,” Jack said. “And hopefully, we develop some new energies, new fuels that we don’t have yet.”

Jack’s bills also set parameters to determine which federal rules require the state’s intervention and, potentially, fund lawsuits to challenge them. Additionally, they instruct the state to organize priorities in the state’s energy plan, considering attributes in this order of importance: adequate, reliable, dispatchable, affordable, sustainable, secure and clean.

Organizing the characteristics has been a point of contention among advocates, who argue the ranking can lead to higher electricity rates and missed opportunities to use clean energy resources. However, a large committee of lawmakers, policy analysts and drafting attorneys worked on that state plan, Jack said.

“I’m not saying we don’t want all the levels, we do want all the levels,” Jack said. “But we have to analyze them in that order of priority. Because if you lack the No. 1 thing, you don’t have any of the things.”

Jack, who is the chief operating officer for Dixie Power, an electric cooperative that serves southern Utah and northern Arizona, and has worked as an engineering and operations specialist in different developing countries, said that seeing energy insecurity abroad inspired his proposed legislation.

“If you don’t have adequate, reliable and affordable energy, you’re going to do something and I guarantee you, what you end up with will not be clean,” he said.

Additionally, Jack said, allowing utilities to tear down generators without a replacement plan has caused a nationwide shortage of electrical capacity. According to the North American Electric Reliability Corporation, most western states, including Utah, are at “elevated risk,” showing susceptibility to electricity shortfalls during extreme conditions.

Plans could backfire

“They’re not wrong,” Sen. Nate Blouin, D-Salt Lake City, said about Republicans’ push to address reliable systems. But, the debate lacks perspective of different measures of reliability, such as the timing of energy generated by renewable sources, and figuring out with software and other innovative methods when to use them.

“This is, I think, just an issue of incumbency, where these utilities and these generators have  decades to potentially hundreds of years, in some cases, of a head start, and the grid has been built around these things,” he said. “And so yes, there does need to be a transition if we’re going to do other things. But we do these things all the time in society, we make big decisions to go in a different direction.”

In Blouin’s view, the biggest Republican energy bills are aimed to keep coal plants open, a plan  that could go “against the market and good regulatory and utility management practices.”

“We’re going to keep these things open even though they don’t produce as affordable energy as people like to think they do,” he said. “They certainly aren’t as clean as new resources, despite what some Republicans are saying. And in some cases, they don’t provide any reliability benefits.”

The Intermountain Power Plant, the largest coal-powered generator in the state, Blouin said, is “very weakly connected to Utah” and designed to send most of its power to California. Keeping it open doesn’t increase reliability in Utah’s grid, he said.

Isolating the state’s grid to strive for energy independence, Blouin said, may leave the state in a more vulnerable position. He cited the 2021 power grid failures in Texas during a severe winter storm that affected millions. Intending to avoid federal regulation, Texas had isolated most of its grid, leaving limited options to receive power from other states.

“They had to try and deal with all of the weather concerns within the state and that just didn’t work because they don’t have enough additional capacity to run the system that way,” he said. “And so that’s what Utah is essentially trying to do.”

This session, lawmakers have been introducing and approving bills that would dictate energy strategy, obstructing the early retirement of current electricity generators and providing incentives for clean energy projects.

Here’s the progress on the most prominent energy bills this year:

State energy strategy

HB48, Utah Energy Act Amendments by Rep. Colin Jack, R-St. George, passed the House and a Senate committee unanimously. It now goes to the full Senate for its consideration

The bill would “develop effective policy strategies to advocate for and protect the state’s interests relating to federal energy and environmental entities, programs, and regulations,” in addition to funding accurate forecasts of the state’s energy supply and demand and directing “the funding of legal effort to combat federal overreach and unreasonable delays regarding energy and environmental permitting.”

HB191 Electrical Energy Amendments by Rep. Colin Jack, R-St. George, passed both legislative bodies and now awaits the governor’s signature.

This legislation prevents “the closure of an electrical generation facility before reaching a normal operational lifespan when significant upgrades and renovations to prolong the electrical generation facility’s service are still financially reasonable investments,” if the shutdown affects the provision of reliable and affordable electricity to users. Under the bill, the decision to close a generator also shouldn’t be the result of a federal incentive.

HB 374, State Energy Policy Amendments by Rep. Colin Jack, R-St. George, passed the House with a 63-9 vote. It also received the recommendation of a Senate committee and is awaiting the full Senate’s consideration.

This bill provides a plan for Utah’s future energy policy, considering resources with these attributes, listed in order of priority: adequate, reliable, dispatchable, affordable, sustainable, secure and clean.

SB161 Energy Security Amendments by Sen Derrin Owens, R-Fountain Green, passed a first vote by the full Senate but now sits circled before it is considered for a second vote in that body.

This bill requires project entities to provide the Public Service Commission a notice before decommissioning an electrical generation facility. It would also require that the entities should put that facility up for sale at a fair market price, and allow the state the option to purchase it.

SB120 Intermountain Power Agency Modifications by Sen. Scott Sandall, R-Tremonton, was introduced in mid-January, but the bill has been sitting in the Senate Rules committee for almost a month.

The bill would establish a governing board for Utah interlocal energy entities with members appointed by the Legislature and the governor. The board would oversee the operations and finances of that entity and create a long-term strategic plan, taking into consideration the state’s energy policy.

SB224 Energy Independence Amendments by Sen. Scott Sandall, R-Tremonton, has been moving fast in the session. The full Senate approved it on its first vote and it now goes to a second consideration by the Senate.

The bill provides direction to the Public Service Commission to evaluate the acquisition of new dispatchable resources with the public interest in mind. It establishes parameters to recover reasonable costs when utilities take action to build and maintain dispatchable resources. It would also consider opportunities to sell excess energy in interstate markets. And, it would create a fire fund to allow the state to self-insure in case of fire events caused by electrical corporations.

HB241 Clean Energy Amendments by Rep. Carl R. Albrech, R-Richfield, changes the word “renewable” to “clean” in Utah statute to include sources such as nuclear, geothermal and carbon capture and sequestration. The bill passed the Senate, and it’s scheduled for a final House vote to approve its last update.


SB191, Grid Enhancing Technologies by Sen. Nate Blouin, D-Salt Lake City, would provide guidance to large utility companies and the state to implement a suite of technologies to optimize the grid’s operation. The system would measure temperature outside and in power lines, which would optimize energy efficiency and prevent wildfire hazards, Blouin said. It could also “push and pull” power within the grid to avoid bottlenecks and constraints, besides encouraging the installation of stronger cables that could carry more energy and prevent wildfires.

This bill passed the Senate and is moving to the House for its consideration.

HB410 San Rafael State Energy Lab by Rep. Christine Watkins, R-Price, would allow the state to buy a $2 million lab that researches — among other industries — innovative technologies in different sources of energy, including nuclear, solar, coal and wind. The bill passed the House unanimously and it now goes to the Senate for consideration.

Geothermal Energy Production Amendments by Sen. Nate Blouin, D-Salt Lake City, hasn’t been numbered, but is ready for the public, Blouin said. The legislation is meant to create a task force with 13 members from different energy-related groups to study and determine how to best unlock the state’s geothermal potential.


HB124 Energy Infrastructure Amendments by Rep. Carl Albrecht, R-Richfield, would expand the high cost infrastructure development tax to include certain geothermal, hydroelectric and nuclear power generation systems.

This bill passed the House and a Senate committee. It now moves forward to the full Senate consideration.

SB189 Net Metering Energy Amendments by Senate President Pro Tempore Wayne Harper, R-Taylorsville, seeks to approve credits that are at least 84% of a regular customer cost for residential and small commercial customers served by large-scale electric utilities.

The bill remains circled in the Senate. Though it passed in the Senate Transportation, Public Utilities, Energy, and Technology Committee and was welcomed with enthusiasm from clean energy advocates, some lawmakers had concerns and hoped to see modifications in the rate moving forward.

Utah News Dispatch is a nonprofit, nonpartisan news source covering government, policy and the issues most impacting the lives of Utahns.


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