The 2023 Utah Legislative Session wrapped up last Friday, March 3 with a mixed bag of highs and lows. I’m happy to report we made important progress on building energy efficiency, and new initiatives to support electric vehicle adoption. We also helped beat back some ill-advised legislation that would have slowed clean energy and clean(er) hydrogen development. And we credit state leaders for continuing to dig into ways to conserve water in the face of climate, drought, and the challenge of preserving the Great Salt Lake.
Unfortunately, it wasn’t all roses. Legislators spent a significant portion of the 2023 session on legislation or resolutions that sought to prioritize fossil fuels above clean energy resources, reflecting a trend in a number of conservative state legislatures. This kind of legislation is a step backward. Utah should be embracing the opportunities that the energy transition offers for our state: cleaner air, better health, and new economic opportunity, as I talked about during a public hearing last week. Read on for a quick roundup of the highlights, lowlights, and work ahead from this year’s legislatives session.
Newly adopted commercial building codes will cut carbon emissions
HB 532-Building Code Revisions (Rep. Calvin Musselman): One of our top priorities this year was to help tackle the pollution from our homes and buildings by updating Utah’s building code. While we didn’t get the residential code win we had hoped for, it was nonetheless a great day when the Utah Legislature voted to update Utah’s commercial building code to the latest energy efficiency standards. This update will improve energy efficiency in our biggest buildings, saving money and reducing emissions.
Defeating bills attempting slow the adoption of clean energy resources
We defeated an effort to drastically cut back the state production tax credit for renewable energy that was originally proposed in HB 407-Incentives Amendments by Rep. Kay Christofferson. Thankfully, this bill failed in the Senate. In addition, we were relieved that HJR 25-Joint Resolution Highlighting the Hazards of Net-zero Energy by Rep. Ken Ivory ultimately didn’t pass after making it through the House. The resolution would have sent the wrong signal, suggesting the transition to clean energy would hurt energy security and our electricity grid (neither is true).
Putting up roadblocks to coal plant transitions
HB 425-Energy Security Amendments (Rep. Ken Ivory): This bill is a wonky one that is ultimately about taking legal action to keep Utah’s coal plants running, especially in the face of new ozone pollution regulations. There’s a lot to unpack in HB 425, but the most concerning part was when the bill was amended to take stops to block the transition of the Intermountain Power Project (IPP)’s coal-fired power plant and transition to a mixture of gas and hydrogen through electrolysis. While those amendments were dropped, they were replaced with a requirement to study potential future uses of the coal plant. This bill should not have happened in the first place. We need to start planning actively for Delta (and other Utah coal communities) for a future that may not include coal-fired power plants.
Work to Do
Energy Efficiency in our Homes: Despite the success of adopting new commercial energy code in HB 532, we are disappointed that the Utah Legislature didn’t take the opportunity to update Utah’s residential energy efficiency standards as our state building code commission recommended. It’s been about a decade since we updated energy efficiency standards for our new homes. Given Utah’s rapidly growing housing market, we need to find ways to help make our new homes energy smart from the start. Fortunately, there are new federal funds and tax credits for energy efficiency improvements in new and existing buildings which will help.
Electric Vehicle Charging Sales Tax: The legislature approved a bill, HB 301-Transportation Tax Revisions by Rep. Mike Schultz, that includes a confusing new sales tax of 12.5% for charging electric vehicles at EV charging stations that charge customers a fee. This is along with an increase in the annual vehicle registration fee for all Utah drivers (both gas cars and plug-in vehicles). Free charging stations and home charging are exempt from the new sales tax. Because EV charging station operators often already pay a sales tax on the electricity they purchase (and re-sell to customers), we would like to clean up the tax to avoid taxing EV drivers twice.