OGDEN — There’s still no word on Ogden’s ultimate position on the Utah Community Renewable Energy Act — but judging from a recent city council work session, the city’s legislative body, much like that of the administration, has some serious apprehension about the program.
Junction City’s seven-member council expressed a wide range of concerns about the initiative earlier this week — from not having enough information on costs and shifting program deadlines to not having a more of a voice on how things move forward in Ogden.
Also known as House Bill 411, the CREA 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 CREA as the channel to reach that goal.
Ogden Council Policy Analyst Amy Mabey said an interlocal governance agreement is being developed among cities that have decided to explore the program, which includes a cost modeling study that will determine individual city contributions based on population and total electricity usage. The cost for all of the communities involved to complete the study is estimated to be around $1 million.
The initial deadline for a decision on joining the interlocal agreement and funding the study had been December 2020, which is why the council had the work session scheduled this week. But in late October, the city received notice that the deadline had been moved to June 2021.
Council Executive Director Janene Eller-Smith expressed frustration with what she characterized as “unilateral” decision making being made by stewards of the program.
“A lot of these decisions have been made unilaterally,” she said. “They haven’t asked our opinion on it. They’ve just made these decisions that they’re going to extend deadlines or change things that they’ve been talking about over the last year.”
Council Chair Angela Choberka expressed similar concerns.
“I feel this reluctance to say H.B. 411 is the only answer for us,” she said. “I certainly am committed to creating a more sustainable future for us all, but I want to take all things into consideration. ... One of my concerns with the situation is it doesn’t seem like we have a lot of say about the higher-level decisions that are being made.”
To be a part of the program, cities were first required to adopt a resolution, form an initial agreement with Rocky Mountain Power to develop program guidelines, and submit an application to the Utah Public Service Commission, the body that will regulate the act. The commission has developed rules that will address issues like customer termination fees, electricity rates and the process for procuring renewable energy resources.
Rocky Mountain Power will develop the renewable energy resources that communities will use. The power company will hold the option to own any of the new resources that are acquired as part of the program.
Mabey said if Ogden chooses to participate, the city is anticipated to be one of the higher contributors to the program, due to its population and electricity usage. But without the estimated $1 million cost modeling study, the actual impact to Ogden residents is unknown — another major concern lodged by the council.
“Part of the struggle is it doesn’t feel like we’re in control of our own destiny here,” said Council member Ben Nadolski. “It’s not outright opposition to the possibilities of the program. But I’m still looking for information on what this is going to cost people. When they open their utility bill, what’s it going to look like? That’s a mystery still.”
Another unknown, concerning price, is the participation of other cities. Mabey said there were 23 other Utah municipalities that vowed to consider the program, but two of those cities, West Valley and Orem, have already opted out. A third city, West Jordan, looks to be leaning in the same direction, Mabey said.
And speaking of opting out, if Ogden were ultimately to be part of the measure, individual households and businesses aren’t required to participate. Maybe said if a large portion of residents and businesses were to opt out of the program after a theoretical city adoption, that could seriously impact the effectiveness of the measure.
“That could really cause some challenges and would really lower the impact of participating,” Mabey said.
Ogden Chief Administrative Officer Mark Johnson said costs of the program, particularly for Ogden’s lower-income residents, has been the administration’s primary concern for some time now.
According to U.S. Census Bureau data, Ogden’s current poverty rate is about 19%, more than double the national rate of about 9%.
With the extra time afforded by the new deadline for an Ogden decision on the interlocal governance agreement and cost study, Johnson suggested the city poll businesses and residents as a way of judging support for the program.
“I think it would help us ... in making decisions, if we kind of had a little more balanced response from our citizens,” Johnson said. “I think that’s where we’re worried — we’re hearing from the people who are energized, but maybe not from the folks that have some concern.”
But Nadolski said that effort might even be fruitless with where things stand now.
“They’re not going to have the information they need to give us valuable feedback if we don’t have it,” he said.
Mabey said the city has several options to consider before the new June deadline, including adopting their own resolution with adjusted goals and differing approach to sustainability and seeking a separate partnership with Rocky Mountain and others.