Free market green energy?
June 7, 2013
Utah is powered by coal. In fact, in June of 2012, Utah received over 75 percent of its net generation of electricity from coal, according to a Utah Geological Survey study.
However, a poll conducted in 2007 by KSL and the Deseret Morning News found that 92 percent of Utahns support "government incentives and investment" in renewable energy. Utah produced only around 3 percent of its energy from renewables in 2011.
HEAL Utah, a 501(c)(3) non-profit, wants to do something about this disparity of supply and demand.
Christopher Thomas, executive director of HEAL Utah, gave a presentation to the Summit County Council on Wednesday on how the free market could help Utah become less dependent on coal while also boosting the economy.
The answer, Thomas said, lies in what is called a Community Choice Aggregation system, or CCA. In essence, the system allows cities and counties to combine the buying power of citizens and businesses to purchase alternative energy contracts.
"This concept really uses free market principles to allow those who want to purchase renewable energy an opportunity to do so," Thomas said. He also mentioned that Rocky Mountain Power’s Blue Sky renewable energy credits are a good choice, but that individuals are still supporting dirty energy regardless.
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CCAs are fundamentally different from many utility programs in that they are not regulatory—they do not require a certain amount of power to come from a utility company.
The very first CCA to form was in Marin County, California, called Marin Clean Energy (MCE). In 2002, legislation was passed that allowed local communities to purchase power from sources of their choice, accepting higher charges for renewable energy, according to MCE’s website.
Currently MCE customers have the choice between two plans: Light Green (50 percent renewable energy) and Deep Green (100 percent renewable energy), with Deep Green costing a mere penny more per kilowatt-hour.
Although renewable energy may not be able to become this affordable in Utah due to the already low prices of coal and natural gas in the state, Thomas highlighted the emphasis on choice. He noted that people would be willing to pay an extra $200 a year for renewable energy.
"You may have people who say, ‘I don’t want to pay any more for my power.’ Those people are allowed to opt out of the program if they want to," Thomas said.
HEAL stresses that new transmission systems do not need to be built. The CCA program would utilize the local utility’s transmission lines while the utility companies would continue to operate in their same role, getting paid for the service and collecting monthly bills.
Thomas cited a success story for energy choice. Utah Senate Bill 12, which was passed in March 2012, allows non-utility energy consumers like eBay, which had renewable energy goals it could not live up to in Utah, to purchase some of its energy from renewable sources.
The clout eBay had to change Utah law regarding renewable energy choice, Thomas said, could usher in the ability for Summit County residents to form a ‘Summit County Power Authority’ CCA. Unfortunately, that could be years away.
"This is not an easy, slam dunk, short-term initiative," Thomas said. "It’s got a lot of benefits, but you’re looking at a multi-year effort. The reason is because you do need to change state law to allow this."
Currently Utah ranks as one of the worst states in the Intermountain West in renewable energy production, with minimal wind installations and insignificant solar production, according to Utah Clean Energy. However, the state has the electricity potential of 69 million megawatt hours. HEAL Utah believes the people of Utah should be able to choose to live up to this potential.
"Let’s give people choice so that they can vote with their wallets to acquire green energy and create green energy economic opportunities," Thomas said.
For more information on green energy choice and other campaigns, visit healutah.org.
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