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SLCo Calls For 100% Renewable Energy By 2030. Officials Say It Could Happen, But Not Without Costs.

The Rocky Mountain Power logo is on a sign outside a brick building.
Brian Albers / KUER
Salt Lake County is among eight Utah communities working with Rocky Mountain Power to bring more renewable energy to the state.

Salt Lake County announced it is hopping on the 100% renewable energy bandwagon. Officials passed a resolution Tuesday to transition the county to total net use by 2030, still making use of some traditional energy sources while adding enough renewables to offset them. The county joins a slew of other Utah communities that have committed to similar goals, including Salt Lake City, Park City, Summit County and the city of Moab. 

The resolution is part of Utah’s Community Renewable Energy Act, or H.B. 411, which Gov. Gary Herbert signed into law last April.

Under the law, participating communities, along with Rocky Mountain Power and state regulators, will enter into a study period to weigh the program’s cost and benefits. That initial phase would begin in early 2020 and is expected to last one to two years. Once completed, communities will decide — via a council and mayoral vote — whether to enter the program, and individual households will have the ability to opt-out. 

Rocky Mountain Power spokesman Spencer Hall said Utah residents have been pushing the utility company and their local leaders to move towards renewable energy, but said getting to net 100% will take a commitment from residents not to shy away from likely rate increases.

“There will be an initial capital investment to build out some of these renewables,” he said. ”But the thing to remember is that after they’re built, there are zero fuel costs.”

He said that will add up over 20 or more years and ultimately save customers money.

Rocky Mountain Power recently unveiled a 20-year plan which would add thousands of megawatts of renewable energy to its grid, including plans to develop batteries to capture sun and wind power. 

While there has been skepticism about whether that technology is far enough along, Hall said it is, though it hasn’t been deployed at the scale that is being discussed. 

The Salt Lake County plan mirrors that of its largest city, where Mayor Jackie Biskupski recently moved the renewable target up to 2030 from 2032. Aware of the startup costs, she’s criticized claims from both of Salt Lake City’s mayoral candidates, Luz Escamilla and Erin Mendenhall, that it could be done as soon as 2023. Biksupski calls that too expensive and unlikely. 

While he couldn’t provide exact figures on how much rates might increase, Hall said that in other areas around the country that have committed to similar goals, prices have doubled or tripled. But he also noted that Rocky Mountain Power has an obligation to keep energy payments affordable. According to the U.S. Energy Information Administration, Utah does have among the lowest annual energy costs in the country, ranking 9th in 2017.

Despite the needed investments from Rocky Mountain Power, Hall said the company anticipates it can keep price spikes below the rate of inflation.

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