Summit County’s sustainability department has been busy during the pandemic, pushing forward, along with regional partners, two projects that have the potential to fundamentally change how electricity is manufactured for residents.
The County Council has made it a goal to shift to renewable energy sources for the county’s power consumption by 2030. Earlier this month, the council authorized County Manager Tom Fisher to sign documents that have the potential to deliver on that goal seven years ahead of schedule.
Councilor Kim Carson called the progress “incredibly exciting.”
“I know this has been a labor of love for you over the past three years, and probably a little bit of hate at times,” Carson said to Lisa Yoder, the county’s sustainability director.
Carson was referencing the at-times fraught process that has involved powerful partners in Salt Lake City, Salt Lake County, Utah Valley University, Deer Valley Resort and Vail Resorts, and wrangling with the state’s Public Service Commission and largest power utility Rocky Mountain Power.
In that time, the solar project that is slated to provide the renewable energy was sold and the price the county would pay for its energy doubled unexpectedly, though still hewing close to traditional power costs.
“I understand part of it was probably a pretty frustrating process, but I really appreciate your perseverance and just commitment to getting it done,” Carson added.
The regional partners, which also include Park City, have banded together to provide the demand for an 80 megawatt solar farm that is planned to be built in Tooele County, essentially guaranteeing the project will have customers. Yoder reported that project is still on track to deliver power to the county’s facilities in 2023.
Councilor Glenn Wright estimated that the ability to provide renewable energy sources for county power will cost the average Summit County resident $0.70 per year above current costs.
“Good job,” he told Yoder.
Concurrently with this plan, the county is working to provide its residents with the option of purchasing 100% renewable energy to power their homes. The county and five of its six municipalities are in a group of 22 jurisdictions statewide that have passed resolutions indicating interest in providing renewable energy to their residents.
Coalville, Francis, Kamas, Oakley and Park City passed such resolutions before the deadline last year, while Henefer did not.
So far, the municipalities haven’t incurred any financial costs.
On Sept. 15, Yoder presented numbers to the regional Council of Governments that revealed for the first time the costs municipalities would have to pay to remain engaged in the effort.
Coalville, Francis, Kamas and Oakley would have to pay a one-time cost of about $1,125 to remain in the program, according to numbers she presented.
Park City would be on the hook for $13,485, while Summit County would owe $21,520.
The money would establish the program and start the initial administrative review by state authorities. By paying that cost, municipalities would be entitled to stay in the program and to find out the rate set by the Public Service Commission for how much the renewable energy would cost residents.
Yoder told the officials that the costs could be split over two fiscal years, acknowledging budget constraints caused by the COVID-19 pandemic.
While Park City and Summit County have vocally supported sustainability efforts and renewable energy projects, the more conservative East Side municipalities have been less enthusiastic in their support, with some indicating reluctance.
As municipalities decide whether to pay for the next step in the process, and the number of potential customers comes into focus. Rocky Mountain Power would take the information about how much renewable energy it would have to create for residents and find or likely create sources for it.
One key provision is that the costs for renewable energy cannot be passed on to customers who continue to use traditional sources.
Francis Mayor Byron Ames summed it up at the meeting earlier this month.
“$843 to decide if we’re in or out? To find out what that rate would be?” he asked Yoder, who answered affirmatively.
If municipalities decide to go forward with the program for their residents, they would be required to send notices to all residents explaining their right to opt out of the program. The electricity from renewable sources would likely be more expensive, though the exact price for electricity from renewable sources won’t be known until the Public Service Commission sets the rate. The project to provide power to governments, for example, is 2.37% more expensive than traditional electricity costs, though the scope of the residential project is significantly different.
Sending those notices would cost East Side municipalities between $489 and $758, though data for Coalville was not available.
Park City’s cost would be $8,338, while Summit County’s would be $10,591.
All told, it would cost East Side municipalities an estimated average of $1,600 to continue in the program.
Summit County Manager Tom Fisher said in an interview there had been no discussions about the county picking up those costs, which would be around $6,500 total.