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Energy needs likely to double

Rocky Mountain Power is expecting the population of the Wasatch Back to double in the next 20 years, and is looking for spots to locate four new substations.

That’s what Chad Ambrose, manager of customer and community relations for Summit and Wasatch counties, told the Summit County Council on April 27.

The projection was generated by the Mountainlands Association of Governments, said Rocky Mountain Power spokesman Jeff Hymas on Friday. If the population of Summit and Wasatch counties reaches 132,000, county and municipal governments will need to plan for an expansion of infrastructure.

No one would volunteer to have a substation in their backyard, and no one wants them in wetlands or scenic areas. Ambrose gave each member of the County Council a planning handbook to facilitate the tough decisions when they need to be made.

But just doubling the supply may not be enough.

Rocky Mountain Power believes Utahns use about 26 percent more electricity today than 20 years ago.

Because of the ski resorts and concentration of hotels and restaurants, the Park City area uses slightly more electricity than the state average, Hymas said. The state average for residential use is about 10 percent higher than the national average and demand has grown at a faster rate.

According to the handbook, home appliances have gotten more efficient in recent years, but homes have more of them 25 on average, according to the International Energy Agency. In 1980, the average was three.

But future demand that is hard to predict is not the only challenge to planning effectively, the handbook said. In addition to uncertain economic growth in the area, there are reasons to believe the price of electricity will go up over the next two decades, possibly curbing demand.

"Climate change and carbon-reduction strategies could impose higher energy costs on consumers," it said. "Utah is among the states where prices are expected to increase significantly due to gradual replacement of inexpensive coal-based generation by more costly alternatives."

In environmentally-conscious Summit County, several homeowners have backyard windmills and solar panels. But according to the handbook, these are "not expected to appreciably reduce the need for future utility infrastructure peak generating periods of wind and solar seldom correlate with peak periods of customer usage. Battery storage is still an expensive option."

Whereas demand for air conditioning makes summer the peak period for most Western communities, winter is the peak along the Wasatch Back because of the resorts. During the previous winter, more electricity was used on New Year’s Eve 2009 than any other day.

The handbook is designed to aid the planning process by providing criteria written in committee by county and municipal planners from across the area. The criteria are supposed to help in site selection. No exact sites have been chosen yet, only general areas.


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