- Consumer advocates in Utah are opposing S115, the Sustainable Transportation and Energy Plan Act, KSL.com reports.
- The bill would allow utility Rocky Mountain Power (RMP) to implement tariffs to fund a sustainable transportation and energy pilot program and recover 100% of "prudently incurred costs" for clean energy development.
- RMP is backing the bill, which it says is needed to address federal environmental regulations impacting its coal generation. The Utah Association of Energy Users, which includes industrial and commercial consumers, says it is wary of pushing the programs through via state law, as it would bypass the authority of the Public Service Commission.
Rocky Mountain Power is once again embroiled in a debate in Utah over clean energy.
Earlier this year, RMP's bid to cut down the 20-year contracts for qualifying facilities under the federal Public Utility Regulatory Policies Act was met with resistance, with Utah's PSC choosing to strike a compromise between clean energy advocates and RMP. The PSC chose to trim the contracts down to 15 years instead of the three-year contract pushed by RMP.
A PacifiCorp subsidiary owned by Warren Buffett's Berkshire Hathaway, RMP is now pushing for Utah legislators to pass legislation that would authorize a large clean energy program that "allows an electrical corporation to recover 100% of ... prudently incurred costs in an energy balancing account," according to the legislation.
Among other things, the plan calls for creation of electric vehicle infrastructure, a solar program and "innovative electric efficiency technology programs." But critics say passing the plan through legislators, instead of state regulators tasked with overseeing rates, is unfair to ratepayers and the utility's plan will raise costs.
“STEP is a wide-ranging bill that would make dramatic changes to utility law and obligate Utah ratepayers to pay millions more on their bills – for unclear benefits,” Kelly Francone, executive director of the Utah Association of Energy Users, said in a statement. “This legislation is coming out too late for the full evaluation it deserves. We urge legislators to vote No.”
“Make no mistake – STEP will raise rates,” said Michele Beck, director of the Utah Office of Consumer Services, the state agency charged with representing residential, small commercial and irrigation customers. “We’re concerned that the Legislature will not have enough time to fully consider what a significant impact this bill will have on all customers, including Utah families, small businesses and industrial energy users.”
The group, which includes Utah Clean Energy, Breathe Utah, HEAL Utah, Crossroads Urban Center, and Western Resource Advocates, also said it is skeptical the law will have "significant environmental benefits." They say several of the measures, including boosting charging for electric vehicles and shutting down a local natural gas power plant during inversions, "would offer only very small clean air benefits."
RMP defended the bill, saying they intend to use the same rate structure currently in place, and that Utah ratepayers will only see minimal impacts to their electricity bill.
"(SB115) offers solutions for Utah to prepare for the future by improving air quality, creating jobs and keeping electricity reliable at a reasonable cost to customers," RMP spokesman Paul Murphy told KSL.com. "We are preparing for the uncertainties of federal environmental regulations on our coal generation. Investing now to help clean Utah's air will attract more businesses and jobs to the state in the future."