How Utah Cities Acted to Shift Their Load Demand to Renewables
- Nov 6, 2020 1:39 pm GMT
Nearly two dozen Utah cities and counties have pledged to adopt 100% net-renewable electricity (from solar, wind, geothermal, hydro-electric and demand management) by 2030 through the Community Renewable Energy Act of 2019. This represents about 37% of Utah’s electricity load.
A team of researchers from Utah State University explored the series of steps and negotiation strategies to achieve that goal. Their work was published in the journal Sustainability.
The researchers said that Salt Lake City, Park City and Moab pioneered the renewable energy goal. But they needed to convince Rocky Mountain Power, their energy provider, to develop and provide renewable electricity resources – not just renewable energy credits or supplies from existing sources – and to retire fossil fuel assets. A second challenge was securing buy-in from residents and businesses to accept 100% net-renewable energy.
The researchers said that the cities collaborated with each other to bring Rocky Mountain Power to the table. Salt Lake City Mayor Jackie Biskupski sparked talks with the utility. Her negotiations led to the state’s Community Renewable Energy Act of 2019. The act authorized the utility to procure renewable electricity resources and create a renewable electricity bulk-purchase program for the participating cities.
One concern for Rocky Mountain Power was assurance that additional costs associated with the renewable electricity procurement would not impact rates of customers not participating in the program. The act stipulated that any new costs and benefits associated with renewable electricity procurement would be designated only to the cities receiving it.
The Act set a deadline for other Utah cities to join the bulk purchase program. This led to 23 Utah cities and counties joining the initiative by the end of December 2019.
The Act also specified that all participating cities’ residents and businesses would receive renewable electricity by default, although customers could opt out if they so wished. The researchers said that people typically accept defaults as a “social norm” and expect that few may opt out of the renewable electricity program.
Currently, Rocky Mountain Power is conducting cost estimates for ratepayers. Once the costs are known, communities will have the option to drop out of the agreement. Park City, Salt Lake City and Summit County hired a consultant in 2017 to evaluate various cost impacts. The work found that electricity rates could be 9-14% higher (representing a $15 to $17 increase in a typical resident’s monthly electricity bill) over the standard rate if the cities transition to renewable electricity by 2032.
The university researchers said that since those studies were completed, however, wind and solar costs have continued to fall, becoming increasingly cost-competitive with traditional fossil fuel electricity sources. They suggest that by 2030 renewable electricity may be the most “fiscally responsible” choice.