Transitioning the Power Sector

Clean Energy Work in Utah

The impacts of climate change are intensifying in Utah. The number and severity of wildfires and the frequency of extreme heat days have increased

Water supplies, dependent on more unreliable mountain snowpack and diminished flows from the Colorado and other rivers, are threatened.

The state’s pinyon-juniper woodlands are receding, replaced with scrub and grassland. And the volume of the Great Salt Lake is half what it was at the end of the 20th century, hitting all-time lows.

WRA’s work in Utah to address climate change and its effects has focused on urging the state’s transition to clean energy generation and use. In 2008, Utah took a step forward in establishing a voluntary renewable portfolio standard that suggests the state achieve 20% renewable energy by 2025.

Working with PacifiCorp, one of the largest electric utilities in the West, Western Resource Advocates negotiated an agreement preventing PacifiCorp from assigning more coal to Utah’s electricity resource mix. The agreement also requires the utility to prove that continuing to use coal resources to generate electricity is in the public interest and beneficial economically for Utah ratepayers before the utility can increase the state’s dependence on coal. WRA analyzed the economics of PacifiCorp’s coal resources and demonstrated to Utah stakeholders that coal is not in the economic or environmental interest of electricity customers.

WRA has also worked to transition fossil-fueled vehicles to electric powered cars and trucks. In 2021, a proposed policy to collect road usage fees would have penalized electric vehicles (EVs) relative to fossil-fueled cars. WRA analyzed the proposal and its underpinning assumptions, found them to be unsupportable, and helped defeat the measure.

WRA continues to engage on efforts to develop more reasonable electric vehicle legislation, including determining equitable fees for replacing lost gas tax revenues and creating a regulatory process that supports adoption of electric vehicle transportation.

windmills

Transitioning the Power Sector in Utah

When WRA commissioned a poll in 2020 on whether Utahns favored shutting down PacifiCorp’s coal-fired power plants and generating power from renewables instead, the results were unequivocal. Voters supported the transition to clean energy by a margin of 53% to 33%.

Still, the process of developing policies to reduce the state’s dependence on fossil fuels for electricity generation has been slow.

Actions outside Utah’s borders have had a dramatic effect, however, since PacifiCorp is a regional utility that operates across six states, and the impacts of those other state actions have rippled across the energy sector.

In 2016, Oregon enacted a law banning coal power from electricity rates by 2030. This action increased pressure on PacifiCorp, Utah’s largest utility, to reconsider its commitment to coal.

In order to keep PacifiCorp’s coal plants running past 2030, Utah would have to agree to pay for more coal-fired power, while wind and solar energy have become less expensive than coal.

WRA has provided key analytics to demonstrate the advantages of reducing Utah’s reliance on coal resources, not just for clear environmental benefits, but to reduce costs for Utah’s utility customers.

Expanding wind and solar power generation also has focused attention on the state’s 100-year-old energy grid. Discussions are underway at the Utah Public Service Commission about how to adapt and expand the grid to modernize it and make it more flexible. WRA and our partners are working to establish policies and programs that help homeowners, businesses, and EV owners shift their usage away from peak usage times to benefit the grid and reduce emissions.

WRA also is aiding cities in developing clean energy policies to encourage renewables and support the transition to EVs that is building momentum across the region and the country.

salt lake city

Years Of Success Working On Clean Energy In Utah

2011

Energy Efficiency

Encouraged PacifiCorp to invest in new energy efficiency measures and renewable resources by helping secure an order from the Utah Public Service Commission.

2009

Clean Air

Won a Utah Supreme Court decision rejecting an air discharge permit on the Sevier Power Plant, making the new plant unlikely to proceed.

2006

Greenhouse Gas Reduction

Established with PacifiCorp criteria for evaluating the benefits of lowering greenhouse gas emissions and reducing water consumption when choosing new power supplies.

2006

Transition to Clean Power

Won a precedent-setting Supreme Court victory challenging two new coal plants proposed near Sigurd and Delta. The proposed plants would have affected air quality in nearby communities and national parks like Capitol Reef.

2003

Real Costs of Coal

Convinced PacifiCorp, the state’s major electric utility, to adjust power generation bids by coal providers to account for the increased risk of using this fossil fuel.

2002

Wind Energy

Enrolled over 5,000 residential customers and more than 60 businesses in Utah and Arizona to support wind energy programs.

2001

Energy Efficiency

Secured a 650% increase in annual funding for new energy efficiency programs by PacifiCorp.

2001

Wind Energy Expansion

Promoted grassroots campaign for wind power, helping gain over 3,000 customers to participate in the Blue Sky wind energy program of Utah Power.

Important updates from WRA’s experts – straight to your inbox.

Western Resource Advocates