Crossing the Finish Line of the 2017 Utah Legislative Session

Crossing the Finish Line of the 2017 Utah Legislative Session
16 March 2017
policy team
Utah Clean Energy's Policy Team (from left):
Sarah Wright, Kevin Emerson, Kate Bowman & Josh Craft

The marathon of meetings, negotiations, and action alerts that we call the 2017 Utah Legislative Session came to a close last week!  During the 45-day whirlwind Session, Utah Clean Energy’s policy team tracked and worked on over a dozen bills impacting energy efficiency, clean energy, and air quality. We have come away with some important wins for clean energy and air quality. We were also dealt a few hard losses. Read on for a roundup of the good, the bad and everything in between from the 2017 Utah Legislative Session.You can also see Utah Clean Energy’s Legislative Tracker for all bills we followed.

Last-minute Save for Clean Energy Financing: Energy Development Amendments (SB 273)

Senator Stuart Adams of Layton introduced SB 273 in the last weeks of the Session. The bill proposed a number of positive changes to Utah’s Commercial Property Assessed Clean Energy (C-PACE) financing law that allows commercial and industrial property owners to finance energy upgrades, including energy efficiency, renewable energy systems, and electric vehicle infrastructure through voluntary property assessments. Utah Clean Energy took the lead on advocating for the original C-PACE law back in 2013, and supported Sen. Adams’ bill.

However, last-minute changes made to the bill in the Senate added language that would have unfairly discriminated against large renewable energy projects over two megawatts in size, and require renewable energy project owners to pay Rocky Mountain Power for “stranded assets” without oversight of the Public Service Commission. Thankfully, we learned about the problematic language and quickly went into action to help broker a compromise with legislators the day before the end of the session. While it’s not perfect, the compromise language addressed our major concern. After the amendments were made, SB 273 moved forward quickly passing both houses. Learn more about C-PACE financing here.

Status: The House and Senate passed an amended version of SB 273 and the bill has moved for final consideration by the Governor.

Good News for HOAs and Solar: Solar Access Amendments (SB 154)

Senator Lincoln Fillmore of South Jordan sponsored SB 154, which proposed to limit the degree to which homeowners associations (HOA) can restrict the installation of rooftop solar by home owners that are part of an HOA. HOAs frequently prohibit residents from installing solar systems on their property, so this bill provided a very modest solution to help Utahns who live in HOAs go solar. The final bill included a minor amendment to clarify that the changes do not apply to HOAs where homeowners do not own their own roofs. All in all, this is a fairly narrow bill that does not solve all the HOA solar restrictions, but it is certainly a step in the right direction.

Status: SB 154 was approved by the House on a 53-15 vote on the final day of the session. The Senate concurred with the changes and now it moves to the Governor’s desk.

More Access to Clean Energy is Always a Good Thing: Renewable Energy Amendments (HB 297)

Representative Stephen Handy of Layton sponsored HB 297, which amends the Utah law regarding “Schedule 32” electric rates. Schedule 32 is the law that allows businesses to contract with renewable energy developers for energy from off-site renewable energy projects. Just think about how much pollution we could prevent if massive energy users were powered by clean 100% renewable energy! HB 297 changes Schedule 32 to  allow large energy users to purchase energy from out-of-state renewable energy projects with the caveat that the project provides baseload electricity supply (i.e., if it is not an intermittent resource like solar and wind).

Status: The Senate voted in favor of HB 297 and now the bill is enrolled and awaiting action by Governor Herbert.  

Compromise Found on Residential Solar Tax Credit: Renewable Energy Tax Credit Amendments (HB23)

Utah Clean Energy has been working with many community and solar industry partners to help deter 2017 legislation aimed at eliminating Utah’s state income tax credit for residential solar energy systems. Once a bill saw the light of day, we began negotiations with the House Sponsor of HB 23, Representative Jeremy Peterson, resulting in a compromise that includes: removing an annual cap on the tax credit that was proposed in the original the bill, retaining Utah's existing residential income tax credit for solar energy systems through 2017, and then gradually phasing out the tax credit, with a 20 percent reduction each year starting in 2018 through 2021. The phase-out applies only to residential solar PV systems, not solar thermal or passive solar systems.

More than ten years ago, Utah Clean Energy helped create this tax incentive, which was implemented to help Utah’s then-immature solar industry become established in Utah. While we would have liked to see the solar PV tax incentive continue indefinitely, the compromise bill and its more gradual approach is a vast improvement over the bill as it was originally proposed.

Status: The Senate approved HB 23 and the bill is enrolled and awaiting final action by Governor Herbert. See Utah Clean Energy’s Renewable Energy Tax Credit page for more information on the tax credit.

A Hard Loss: Energy Efficient Vehicle Tax Credit Amendments Fails to Pass the House (HB 29)

Close, but not close enough! Representative Stephen Handy of Layton also sponsored HB 29, which proposed to renew and modify Utah’s successful tax credit for electric vehicles. The tax credit, which is a critical tool to improve long-term air quality along the Wasatch Front, expired on December 31, 2016.

Utah Clean Energy worked throughout the Session with Representative Handy and House Revenue and Taxation Committee members to address concerns with the potential cost of the tax credit. We worked with parties to negotiate amendments to HB 29, including a five-year phase-out and an annual review of the tax credit (a measure not required for other tax credits, which are reviewed every three years).

Despite being passed unanimously out of the House Committee and a significant effort by Utah Clean Energy staff to garner strong legislative support, HB 29 failed to pass the House – falling short by just one vote near the end of the Session. Utah is not alone in this development. Across the country incentives for electric vehicles are being repealed or allowed to expire as reported in a recent New York Times article. But rest assured: we’re not giving up on efforts to grow Utah’s nascent electric vehicle market!

Status: The full House voted against HB 29 by a narrow margin of 37-38. See Utah Clean Energy’s fact sheet on HB 29 for more information about the bill.

We Would Have Liked to See This One Pass: Environmental and Economic Stewardship (HJR 18)

House Joint Resolution 18, sponsored by Representative Rebecca Edwards, calls on the State of Utah and its Congressional delegation to recognize the risks to the state posed by climate change and plan for appropriate public and private actions to adapt to and mitigate those risks, including promoting the use of energy efficiency. Unfortunately, the bill didn’t make it out of Committee.

Status: HJR 18 failed to advance in the House Economic Development & Resource Stewardship Committee on a committee vote of 5-5.

Political Balance Not Preserved in State Boards: State Boards and Commissions Amendments (HB 11)
House Bill 11, sponsored by Representative Norman Thurston of Provo and Senator Margaret Dayton of Orem, proved to be one of the most challenging bills of the 2017 session. HB 11 removes the requirement that members of a certain state boards and commissions are not solely filled by members of one political party, known as the political balance requirement. Utah Clean Energy worked in favor of a compromise version of the bill, passed by the House that would have maintained the political balance requirement for important energy and environmental agencies including the Public Service Commission, the Air Quality Board, and the Water Quality Board, among others.  Remember, the Public Service Commission is the entity that rules on utility issues, such as net metering.  Despite this positive compromise made in the House, the Senate chose to overturn this compromise, moving forward a bill that removed the political balance requirement for all state boards. Ultimately, the House voted narrowly to approve the Senate-backed version of HB 11, despite our efforts to restore the compromise.

Status: The House concurred with the Senate version of HB 11 and the bill now awaits a final decision by Governor Herbert.

Well there you have it!  45 days, over a dozen bills and some good forward progress. From all of us at Utah Clean Energy, a big THANK YOU to everyone who responded to our take action alerts and got involved during the 2017 Legislative Session.

Sincerely,
Utah Clean Energy