Ogden Inversion

Dirty air trapped beneath the inversion glows in the setting sun over North Ogden in December 2016.

Occasionally, you run across valuable legislation that requires some public engagement to be fully realized. Such is the case with Utah House Bill 411, the Community Renewable Energy Act, which was passed with overwhelming bi-partisan support by the Utah State Legislature and signed by Governor Herbert in 2019.

Local governments in Utah partnered with Rocky Mountain Power to help pass HB 411, which authorizes a path for Utah municipalities and counties to achieve a net-100% renewable electric energy portfolio by 2030. With “net-100%,” the total electricity needs of a given community are met or offset with renewable energy generation including solar, wind, geothermal, hydroelectric power, and demand management, such as energy efficiency or energy storage technologies. Rocky Mountain Power will bear the responsibility for contracting for energy from these sources, not the municipalities involved.

HB411 requires communities to commit, through a non-binding resolution by Dec. 31, 2019, a willingness to potentially sign onto the program in the future — creating time for the community to study it further. Currently, the Ogden City council has tasked the newly formed Natural Resources and Sustainability Stewardship Committee with evaluating the potential benefits of HB 411. We encourage the Ogden City council and other towns, cities and counties in Northern Utah to adopt resolutions allowing our communities to take advantage of the program.

Only the communities that sign on by Dec. 31 can “opt in” to the program once the renewable portfolio rates have been analyzed, set and approved by the Utah Public Service Commission. In other words, passing a support resolution does not commit a community to the program yet. It does mean the community must first pass the resolution in order to later have the choice to lock in favorable long-term rates, based on a cost-efficient renewable energy portfolio. HB 411 has structured this choice as a one-time opportunity — communities will not be able to take a ‘”wait and see” approach and sign on after the fact.

Once it is known how many communities have signed on (the more, the better, as it creates economies of scale), RMP analysts will determine the electricity rates for participating communities over the life of the program. Ogden City would then have the choice of opting in, and even then individual consumers would still be able to opt out of the program and stay with standard Rocky Mountain Power rates.

According to Forbes, the cost of renewable energy is expected to be consistently cheaper than fossil fuels within the next two years. Meanwhile, a 2018 Rocky Mountain Power report revealed that today much of their generation is uneconomical. Renewable sources are trending down in cost. That doesn’t mean we don’t need sources like coal. Coal is just too valuable to burn. For example, Utah has invested in the future of coal as a key element of the growing composite industry. Under the terms of HB411, Utah communities have a unique opportunity to get ahead of the long-term projected costs of fossil fuel-generated electricity.

Ogden and Layton are already adopting impressive sustainability practices thanks in part to ideas from Weber State. You may not realize it, but WSU helps state entities implement techniques that not only save energy but also save money quickly. HB411 has the potential to save money long term for consumers and create cleaner air for all of our communities.

Ogden City’s participation in the Community Renewable Energy Program will position ratepayers in Ogden to take maximum advantage of the long-term cost trends. Further, insofar as Ogden City and Northern Utah generally have marketed the region as an outdoor recreation hub both to tourists and businesses, this resolution would position us as leaders in Northern Utah in our commitment to improved air quality, a sustainable economy and a better quality of life for everyone, including the prospective employers and employees the city hopes to attract to our community.

Dr. David Ferro is dean of the College of Engineering, Applied Science & Technology at Weber State University. Twitter: DavidFerro9 Dr. Mark Stevenson is assistant professor in the WSU Department of Sociology & Anthropology

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