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Utah’s Community Renewable Energy Program is projected to come to fruition in 2024

Solar panels behind the Salt Lake City Veterans Affairs complex, July 18, 2023. With Rocky Mountain Power expected to have 20,000 megawatts of renewable energy in its portfolio by 2032, Utah communities are looking to tap into that potential.
Sean Higgins
/
KUER
Solar panels behind the Salt Lake City Veterans Affairs complex, July 18, 2023. With Rocky Mountain Power expected to have 20,000 megawatts of renewable energy in its portfolio by 2032, Utah communities are looking to tap into that potential.

The Salt Lake City Council unanimously passed a resolution during its July 18 meeting committing the city to the Utah Community Renewable Energy Program.

The program, coordinated by Rocky Mountain Power, aims to help communities meet a goal of net-100% renewable energy by 2030. In all, 18 Utah communities are poised to take the next step in realizing a yearslong process to establish it.

Salt Lake City, Park City, Castle Valley, Moab, Millcreek and Grand and Summit counties make up the seven “anchors” of the program. They are tasked with ensuring payment of the estimated $700,000 project implementation cost.

The goal of reaching 100% renewable energy in Salt Lake City has been around since at least 2016.

“This is the single largest undertaking for the city as we work to meet our net 100% clean electricity goals and our 80% carbon reduction goals for the community,” said Sophia Nicholas, the city’s energy & environment division director. “We're about to, fingers crossed, work to achieve a very significant milestone with the Utah 100 Communities Agency.”

That program has been in the works since 2019. A state law called the Community Renewable Energy Act allows municipalities to contract with utilities to offer cleaner energy options like wind and solar.

According to project estimates, Rocky Mountain Power could submit an application to the state this fall with a start date of early 2024, but there are still hurdles to cross before that happens.

Each community, for example, has to approve the program’s details individually before the process moves forward.

“Our support of that legislation was because we wanted to support communities trying to meet their renewable energy goals,” said spokesperson David Eskelsen. “We've been working with the communities on the specifics of the program design since then. We will file an application once the communities commit themselves.”

The utility has signaled that it will move further away from traditional power sources like coal in the coming years and expand its renewable portfolio to 20,000 megawatts by 2032.

Eskelsen said how fast the program is implemented is up to the communities to decide.

“These are relatively complicated arrangements that we're talking about. It's no surprise that the details took a while to work out and we're not done yet.”

For Salt Lake City officials like Nicholas, the urgency of moving forward has been illustrated by a string of radical weather events in other parts of the country that many believe have been made worse by climate change.

“I think we're seeing the impacts of climate change around the country right now,” said Nicholas. “Thankfully, we're not experiencing anything like Vermont or the South or all of these places that are really experiencing some horrific climate impacts. But I think it just underscores why it is that we're doing this.”

Corrected: July 19, 2023 at 2:35 PM MDT
This story has been updated to fix a small transcription error in a quote from Salt Lake City's Sophia Nicholas.
Sean is KUER’s politics reporter.
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