OGDEN — Though power rates for those who opt into a proposed renewable energy program could rise if Ogden takes part, individual power customers could still opt out, avoiding any hike resulting from the city’s participation.
“They will be separated. There won’t be cost-shifting between the two,” said Luke Cartin, the environmental sustainability manager for Park City, a major proponent of the program, the Community Renewable Energy Act, or CREA. That is, those not interested in the renewable energy program could stick with Rocky Mountain Power’s standard rate structure, which won’t be impacted by any rate changes brought on by the CREA.
The rates individual Rocky Mountain Power customers would face if Ogden decides to take part in the CREA remain a central question as city leaders here debate whether to take part. An Ogden official involved in the process says officials here are still doing their due diligence, trying to get a handle on the possible impact. One of their big concerns is saddling Ogden customers, particularly lower-income residents, with a big rate hike they don’t want or can’t afford to cover the possible cost of converting to renewable energy resources.
“It’s slowly coming,” said Jay Lowder, public services director for Ogden. “We haven’t said no. We’re not turning a blind eye to it.”
The opt-out provision, allowing individual power customers to stick with the standard rate structure if Ogden takes part in the renewable power initiative, is of limited consolation. Among other things, Lowder worries that some customers not interested in the program will miss the notices on how to opt out of it when and if the time comes, thus inadvertently enrolling in it by default. Outreach to inform the public about possible rate changes would be part of the process.
“A lot of people don’t pay enough attention,” Lowder said.
The CREA, authorized by Utah lawmakers in 2019 in House Bill 411, creates the framework for participating cities and locales to join together in asking Rocky Mountain Power to supply them with power generated by renewable resources like wind and the sun. The aim is to reduce dependence on fossil fuels, like coal, which can sully the environment.
“It’s kind of a first-in-the-nation kind of bill,” Cartin said.
As it stands, 20-plus Utah locales, including Ogden, have indicated preliminary interest in taking part and seeking out a renewable energy agreement with Rocky Mountain Power. But the process continues to edge along, with some more committed than others, and the communities may still pull out of the process at this stage. Cartin said that among the most-committed locales are Park City, Summit County, Salt Lake City, Salt Lake County, Moab, Grand County and Alta. “This program will go forward,” Cartin said.
Still the rate question, a seemingly big point for Ogden, remains.
“At this time, the electricity rates under the program are not known and will be based on several factors, including program participation and incremental costs for any new renewable resources,” Rocky Mountain Power said in response to a Standard-Examiner query on the matter. However, the company acknowledged that the rates under the CREA program could go up if it has to seek out new energy resources.
Cartin emphasized that the cost of renewable power, traditionally higher than power generated by fossil fuels, has steadily been going down over the years. He suspects the cost of renewable energy generated under the CREA would be on par with power generated by traditional sources or, perhaps, a few percentage points more. He would be “shocked” if the price rise reached 10%.
“Wyoming wind is one of the cheapest energy sources in the U.S. right now,” he noted.
Cartin also noted PacifiCorp‘s commitment to renewable energy — indicative, he maintains, of the increasingly competitive cost of renewable energy relative to fossil-fueled power. PacifiCorp is Rocky Mountain Power’s parent company.
PacifiCorp’s two-year resource plan from 2019 calls for the addition of more than 1,920 megawatts of wind-generated power by 2024 and an additional 1,100 megawatts of wind-generated power between 2030 and 2032. “The plan also anticipates the retirement of 16 of the company’s 24 coal units by 2030 and 20 of the units by the end of the planning period in 2038,” Rocky Mountain Power said in its statement to the Standard-Examiner.
Ogden still has time to sort the issue. The absolute drop-dead deadline, at least for now, doesn’t come until early next year.
Among the next steps will be finalizing a governance agreement between the interested locales spelling out how they work together, the process to follow as they pinpoint and finalize program details. Cartin expects trying to more precisely estimate how rates might be affected would be an element of the efforts and he hopes interested locales start signing on to the governance agreement this spring and summer.
Then would come creation of a joint utility agreement with Rocky Mountain Power, spelling out terms of the deal between the participating communities and the power company. The current timeline calls for approval of a joint utility agreement by Jan. 31, 2022, though it would subsequently face review by Utah regulators, the Utah Public Service Commission.
The estimated price tag to craft the governance and joint utility agreements plus other related costs, including the hiring of experts to aid in the process, is around $700,000, to be paid over two years. Ogden’s share of that, should it stay involved, would be $71,475, also to be paid over two years.