Find out which 18 Utah communities are taking the lead in clean electricity

The arrangement allows them to accelerate to 100% renewable for all residents by 2030.

(Trent Nelson | The Salt Lake Tribune) Wind turbines spin amid solar panels north of Milford on Tuesday, Oct. 5, 2021. Eighteen communities in Utah have opted for a state agency that will speed conversion to the renewable electricity for their residents.

This story is part of the Salt Lake Tribune’s ongoing commitment to identifying solutions to Utah’s biggest challenges through the work of the Innovation Lab.

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About a quarter of Rocky Mountain Power customers in Utah go for 100% renewable electricity from the Community Renewable Energy Agency, a public entity created by the legislature that is the first of its kind in the nation.

Under Utah’s Community Renewable Energy Act of 2019, 18 Utah cities and counties have pledged that the agency will negotiate with Rocky Mountain so that all of their residents can purchase clean electricity and renewable by 2030. The plan required legislation to allow the Utah Public Service Commission to regulate the group separately and allow for different rates.

(Christopher Cherrington | The Salt Lake Tribune)

Communities in Utah had a May 31 deadline to commit to joining the agency. Twenty-three entities entered the initial phase, but five of them dropped out. Three counties, nine cities and six townships remain stretching from Springdale to Ogden to Moab.

Those who pay for 100% renewable electricity are essentially paying to add that clean energy to the grid. Everyone shares the same electricity grid, so in practice there will still be times when renewable customers draw on fossil electricity. Yet the Community Renewable Energy Agency’s commitment to clean electricity is expected to accelerate the transition of the entire grid. In other words, these communities are at the forefront of clean electricity conversion.

“This program is not only the first of its kind in Utah. It’s the first of its kind in the United States,” said Salt Lake City Mayor Erin Mendenhall. “Together with Rocky Mountain Power, our communities are building the clean energy infrastructure we need to ensure our children and grandchildren have a healthy and prosperous future. At a time when cooperation and good news seem hard to come by, we’re working together across Utah to get things done.

Utah’s second-largest municipality, West Valley City, was among those that did not commit to the next step. First-year mayor Karen Lang said at the time that the plan had too much cost uncertainty.

“I don’t think we have enough solid information from Rocky Mountain as to what it would cost residents,” she said. “They just don’t have the details, or they don’t share them. And so I’m not comfortable engaging our residents in anything without all the information.

A 2017 study prepared for Summit County estimated that renewable rates were 9% to 14% higher than regular rates, but the cost of renewables has since declined.

“I expect it to be less than that,” said Christopher Thomas, senior manager of Salt Lake City’s energy and climate program.

Residents of participating cities and towns can opt out of the program and keep the old rates if they wish. Thomas said entities will have the same process to notify residents and give them an opt-out process. He said they will have all the tariffs before making the decision, and they will have a five-month window to decide.

There is no minimum number of residents that must participate in order for towns and villages to remain in the program.

Thomas said the new agency hired an energy law firm and a consultant to negotiate program details with Rocky Mountain Power, including a rate schedule. Rocky Mountain Power is expected to file a program application with the Public Service Commission later this year, and the PSC will need to approve the rate schedule.

The communities will each have to pass ordinances to proceed. Thomas said the program could launch as early as 2023.

The agency townships are Alta, Castle Valley, Emigration Canyon, Francis, Kearns and Springdale. The cities are Coalville, Cottonwood Heights, Holladay, Millcreek, Moab, Oakley, Ogden, Park City and Salt Lake City. The counties are Grand, Salt Lake and Summit. County stake refers to unincorporated areas outside of cities or towns.

Tim Fitzpatrick is the renewable energy reporter for the Salt Lake Tribune, a position funded by a grant from Rocky Mountain Power. The Tribune retains full control over editorial decisions independent of Rocky Mountain Power.

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