Let’s cut to the chase: the 2021 Utah Legislative was one of the weirdest sessions in recent memory. Not surprisingly, energy and air quality were largely eclipsed by debates about COVID-19 rules, economic policy, infrastructure investments, and how to respond to the recent election of President Biden. But as we have said before, climate and air quality can’t wait, and remained front-and-center in Utah Clean Energy’s legislative agenda. Thanks to help from people like you, we achieved some important victories! Unfortunately, some problematic legislation also moved through despite our opposition.
Below is our take on the good, the bad, and the ugly of all things clean energy in the 2021 Utah Legislative Session.
Stopping Electric Vehicle Fees
With your help, we stopped HB 209-Vehicle Registration Fee Revisions, which would have hiked fees for electric, plug-in hybrid, and gas hybrid vehicles substantially! Stopping HB 209 will allow us to look anew at how to fund our transportation needs and avoid penalizing low emissions vehicles.
Public Transportation and Affordable Housing Investments
The Utah Legislature took some important steps to fund new transportation projects, including new public transportation projects and the double-tracking of the UTA FrontRunner, with HB 433 4th Substitute-Amendments Related to Critical Infrastructure Funding. This bill will provide over $1 billion for investments in roads, public transportation, and active transportation projects, including $100 million for the expansion of tracks for the UTA Frontrunner, $232 million in bonding funding for public transportation projects, and $35 million for active transportation projects. The Legislature provided over $50 million in new funding to build and rehabilitate affordable housing options in this year’s budget, including $15 million in new funds for the Olene Walker Housing Loan Fund, $10 million in private activity bond-financed multifamily housing, and $25 million in public funds to match private donations in order to preserve and rehabilitate affordable low-income housing units through the Utah Housing Preservation Fund. These are positive steps that will generally improve quality of life and improve air quality here in Utah.
Utah Clean Energy Fund Will Be Back During Interim
We want to thank Representative Joel Briscoe for his very good work with us on HB 263-Utah Clean Energy Fund. This legislation would have authorized a non-profit entity that can provide low-income capital to scale up energy efficiency, renewable energy, and sustainable agriculture projects in our state. While we didn’t get HB 263 across the finish line this year, we had very good conversations with legislators and will be ready to advance this bill during the interim session this summer and fall.
HB 17 1st Substitute-Utility Permitting Amendments
We opposed HB 17-Utility Permitting Amendments because it prevents local communities from putting restrictions on new natural gas connections. This is part of a national effort by the gas industry to slow communities from electrifying new homes and buildings in their community. Unfortunately the bill passed, but importantly, our work and your voice helped to push legislators to make changes to HB 17 that will allow communities to continue to offer incentives to reduce emissions in their buildings and to control how they want to heat, cool, and power public facilities. Nonetheless, HB 17 is unnecessary and counter to the spirit of allowing allow governments to innovate on energy choice and reducing emissions.
HCR 5-Concurrent Resolution Encouraging Statewide Emissions Reduction Goals
HCR 5 is a resolution that called for the Legislature to support the greenhouse gas emissions reduction and criteria pollutant reduction goals put forth in the.” We were disappointed when this positive resolution did not even receive a hearing. The resolution would have also represented the first time that the Utah Legislature formally supported a specific greenhouse gas emissions reduction goal.
SB 33 2nd Substitute-Uniform Building Code Commission Amendments
SB 33 began as a relatively routine adoption of new electrical codes for residential and commercial buildings, but morphed into an effort to change the makeup of the building code commission to favor private interests over public interests. The second substitute, which was adopted without a real hearing in a standing committee, tipped the membership in the commission away from public officials and public interest groups in favor of homebuilders and private interests. We are greatly concerned that this change will undermine our ability to adopt strong, forward-thinking building standards that ensure that our new buildings are highly energy-efficient, reducing costs for building owners and improving air quality. We will see what happens as the UBCC begins the process of adopting the new 2021 International Energy Conservation Code (IECC) for residential buildings. Utah has not updated its energy codes for homes since 2015.
Other Legislation of Interest
Below are a few bills Utah Clean Energy watched closely and we wanted to note them because we expect that you’ll hear more about them in the coming months. Each provides some clues as to some of the big debates in energy and climate we expect to hear more about over the next year.
- HB 388 4th Substitute-State Energy Policy Amendments: HB 388 modifies Utah’s state energy policy statute to call for the state to plan for and invest in “cost-effective and dispatchable energy reserves to meet grid demand,” a major flashpoint in the wake of the recent Texas and California electricity grid disruptions. We expect this to be a major issue as Utah considers an update to our ten-year energy plan under Governor Cox.
- HB 346 2nd Substitute-Natural Resources Entities Amendments: HB 346 made some important changes to our state energy and natural resource agencies, chiefly moving the Office of Energy Development under the Department of Natural Resources. Our understanding is that the new head of the Office of Energy Development, Thom Carter, will remain part of Governor Cox’s cabinet as the energy advisor to the governor.
- HB 223 4th Substitute-Alternative Fuel Incentive Amendments: After initially being held in committee, HB 223-Alternative Fuel Incentive Amendments was modified several times to create a production tax credit for hydrogen production. While hydrogen production from natural gas is already common, there is a lot of interest in producing hydrogen from renewable energy resources through electrolysis in Utah near the Intermountain Power Project site in Delta. The Los Angeles Water and Power Department (LADWP) has expressed a lot of interest in purchasing “green hydrogen” to serve as an energy storage resource and to meet their push to 100% carbon-free electricity.