And that’s a wrap! The 2022 Utah Legislative Session ended March 4. While COVID-19 rules, education, and tax cuts dominated most of the session, we came away with several important wins for clean energy. Here are the overall impressions of the session:
The Legislature is talking a lot more about climate change and reducing emissions: Climate change and efforts to reduce greenhouse gas emissions are popping up more often from members of both parties. HCR 1-Concurrent Resolution to Work Together to Address the Climate, Public Lands, and Carbon Sequestration by Rep. Keven Stratton, for example, led to some surprisingly good discussion about the need to address climate change and to drawdown global greenhouse gas emissions. That’s a good sign that we are moving further away from debating climate science and towards debating climate solutions. Credit where it’s due: Senator Kirk Cullimore worked with a number of stakeholders, including Utah Clean Energy, to pass some important bills to reduce emissions in buildings and transportation, including SB 188-Energy Efficiency Amendments (see more below). We hope to see this continue into the next year.
No major pro-clean energy or climate bills: One the other hand, we did not make real progress in enacting major bills to reduce emissions or prepare for the impacts of climate change, as a number of our neighboring states have. The Legislature voted not to consider HJR3-Joint Resolution Supporting a Federal Carbon Fee and Dividend Program in the House Public Utilities, Energy, and Technology Committee, a modest effort to endorse a national revenue-neutral carbon pricing program. And a number of bills to provide incentives for the purchase of electric vehicles either failed to pass or didn’t get a hearing. Time is long past when we can avoid confronting the climate challenge directly.
Building Codes: For the second year in a row, the Legislature rather hastily added concerning amendments to building codes legislation (HB 39-State Construction Code Amendments) that would undercut rules to ensure appropriate sizing of heating and cooling equipment. When heating and cooling systems aren’t sized appropriately, they waste energy, cost families more on their energy bills and pollute needlessly. Energy and air quality must be central considerations in how we build our homes and buildings. With the first major residential building code update since 2016 on the horizon next year, we need more than just a few minutes of debate on these important bills.
Notable Energy, Transportation, and Climate Legislation
HB 186: A Compromise on Electric Vehicle Fees
We began the session by working with Representative Ray Ward (R-Bountiful) on HB 186-Vehicle Registration Amendments (2nd Substitute), a compromise on the issue of higher registration fees for electric vehicles (EVs). For several years, legislation has been proposed to increase registration fees for EV drivers. A bill we defeated last year would have made Utah’s fees some of the highest in the nation. The result of this compromise will ensure that EV drivers who participate in the state’s Road Usage Charge Program will pay a lower per-mile rate for the next nine years. For EV drivers that opt not to participate in the Road Usage Charge Program, the current $120 registration fee will increase to $180 in 2026, and then $240 in 2032, plus an annual inflation adjustment. This is far from ideal, but we believe that this compromise should put the argument that EV drivers are not paying for their “fair share” of road maintenance to bed. They are. Now let’s move on to deploying electric vehicle charging infrastructure in our communities and updating our building codes to ensure that our homes and buildings are EV ready!
Legislation Passes to Help Protect Access to Electric Vehicle Charging at HOAs and COAs
SB 152-Community Association Regulation Amendments (3rd Substitute) by Senator Wayne Harper (R-Taylorsville) passed, which prohibits homeowner associations from creating rules that would stop residents from installing electric vehicle charging equipment in their own parking spaces.
New Funding for Energy Efficiency and Electric Vehicles
SB 188-Energy Efficiency Amendments (2nd Substitute) by Senator Kirk Cullimore will do two helpful things: first, it will facilitate the use of federal infrastructure funds to purchase new zero-emissions fleet vehicles and fund residential energy efficiency measures. Second, the bill modifies the low-income energy assistance programs to allow for funds to be spent on replacing aging and inefficient appliances and heating equipment. We look forward to working to help implement this legislation, especially the residential energy efficiency pieces.
Committee to Study Electricity Grid Resilience
HB 418-Grid Resilience Committee (1st Substitute) by Representative Carl Albrecht creates a 12-member committee to examine challenges to the operation of our electricity grid, including the shift away from fossil energy resources, cybersecurity, and extreme weather. The committee will then offer recommendations to the Utah Legislature. This is a laudable and important issue, though we are a bit concerned that the committee is dominated by electric utilities and fossil fuel generators and does not have representation from someone with expertise in renewable energy or energy storage. We will be monitoring the operations of the committee.
Appropriations and Funding for Rural Electric Vehicle Charging, Zero-Emissions Rail, and Water Conservation Measures
The Legislature enacted its largest budget ever, spending $25 billion. While it will take a while to go through the entire budget and what the implications are for clean energy, air quality, and climate, there are some notable items that received funding: $3 million for a matching grant program for rural electric vehicle charging in the areas served by rural electric cooperatives, $5 million in funds for residential water conservation incentives, and then significant new funding for rail, bus, and bus and pedestrian paths. The new federal Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act will likely provide some additional funds for various transportation projects.