The 2019 Utah Legislative Session kicks off on January 28! Utah policymakers are set to engage in a number of important discussions about air quality, renewable energy, Rocky Mountain Power’s coal fleet, and new opportunities to expand electric vehicles and public transportation. While things come up and change quickly throughout the session, below are Utah Clean Energy’s top priorities heading into the legislative session.
Allow Utah Cities to Move to Net 100% Renewable Energy
Salt Lake City, Park City, Summit County, and Moab have made inspiring and groundbreaking commitments to move their community energy supplies to net 100% renewable energy resources over the next decade. Each of them has agreements with Rocky Mountain Power to achieve these goals.These communities are seeking first-in-the-nation legislation that would allow them to move away from Rocky Mountain Power’s default generation mix and towards 100% renewable sources. We are supportive of this legislation and look forward to helping cities to achieve it.
Making our buildings more energy efficient remains a top priority for Utah Clean Energy, especially as we seek to ensure that Utah’s energy efficiency programs are accessible to all Utahns regardless of income level. That is why we are seeking additional state funding for Utah’s Weatherization Assistance Program. The Weatherization program offers low-income homeowners energy efficiency services such as new insulation, new energy efficient lighting, and replacing and upgrading heating equipment. This is a proven program that can help ease the energy cost burdens for Utah families while improving air quality by reducing emission from existing buildings.
Speaking of energy efficient buildings, building energy codes are an important way to ensure that new homes and businesses don’t waste energy. Utah Clean Energy’s Energy Efficiency Program Director, Kevin Emerson, serves as an appointed public member of the state Uniform Building Code Commission. Over the course of 2018, he worked with other members of the Commission and its advisory committees to recommend updates to Utah’s residential and commercial building codes. Included in this recommendation, which was submitted to the Utah Legislature in August 2018, is the adoption of the most current energy code for commercial buildings and several modest amendments to improve Utah’s energy code for new homes. The recommended energy code changes are low cost and would help save money and reduce air emissions. However, the Legislature must formally enact the recommended code changes for them to take effect. Utah Clean Energy is excited to work towards completing this final step and to implement these important changes to the building codes.
While Utah still relies heavily on coal for its electricity supply (currently around 60 percent of its electricity resource mix), that is likely to change as new solar and wind resources are increasingly cost competitive with existing coal plants. The recent analysis by Rocky Mountain Power has found that there is a potential to retire some of its coal units early and save Utah customers money on their energy bills. Accelerating the retirement of coal-fired power plants is tricky from an accounting and a political perspective. But given the significant economic and environmental benefits of doing so, Utah Clean Energy is looking for tools that can help to accelerate our transition to newer and cleaner energy resources. We look forward to working with our friends at HEAL Utah and Western Resource Advocates on legislation that would authorize a new financial mechanism to help accelerate coal retirements called “securitization.” Securitization involves using bonds backed by electric customers to recover unpaid investments in power plants that retire early.
Recently, Utah businesses that have installed solar have run into issues with the assessment of personal property taxes on the value of the solar systems. This has the potential to hinder businesses that want to install solar by making commercial solar projects less financially beneficial. It also introduces uncertainty for Utah solar developers at a time when there is already a significant transition underway with the end of net metering in sight. We are working with the Utah Solar Energy Association and members of our Clean Energy Business Coalition to help provide for solutions to address the personal property tax issue.
Governor Herbert’s FY2020 budget proposal includes $100 million to improve air quality, a potentially major increase in funds to improve air quality and reduce emissions. This is an opportunity to find ways to reduce air pollution and carbon emissions, including new solutions to promote electric vehicles and charging infrastructure, reduce emissions from existing buildings, expand mass transit and create win-wins for Utah’s air and address the risks of climate change. We look forward to working with state legislators and our partners to seize this opportunity to its fullest.
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