Park City and Summit County are weighing whether to serve as a financial backstop for a green energy program
Additional costs could be pricey, but may help ensure program’s survival
Park City and Summit County will soon be asked to help provide a financial guarantee for a renewable energy program they have long supported, a backstop that could cost tens of thousands of dollars, but one that could increase the likelihood that local residents can soon select a source of electricity other than fossil fuels.
The decision comes in the early stages of the Community Renewable Energy Program, which now includes 23 communities that each passed a resolution stating their intention to offer 100% renewable energy to their residents by 2030.
Officials describe the program as an innovative attempt to form a coalition of cities and counties to provide the demand for large-scale renewable energy projects to be built by Utah’s largest utility company, Rocky Mountain Power.
The 23 communities represent a large proportion of the utility’s electrical load and the state’s overall population.
Salt Lake City is the largest participant in a group that also includes Summit County, Park City Coalville, Francis, Kamas and Oakley. Participation has not yet cost communities any money.
Eventually, residents of participating communities would be able to choose whether the power they purchase from Rocky Mountain Power comes from renewable resources like solar or wind farms that the utility would build for this project, rather than from traditional fossil fuel sources.
But first, there is an estimated $700,000 in startup costs to develop a rate proposal to submit to a state regulatory body.
Those costs were broken down proportionally for each participating community based on its population and power consumption, and could be split over two years. Salt Lake City, by far the largest participant, is billed for about 29% of the total costs, or just over $200,000.
For Summit County, the cost would be about $21,500; for Park City, it would be about $13,500.
The costs for the four East Side communities are less than $1,500 each.
Those numbers could change drastically if communities withdraw from the program, which would leave the rest responsible to cover a larger share.
That’s where the concept of “anchor communities” come in. Those communities, which Park City and Summit County are considering becoming, would collectively guarantee the entire $700,000 in startup costs, covering the share of other communities that might back out.
Park City Environmental Sustainability Manager Luke Cartin said at least five or six communities are “very interested” in becoming anchor communities, though none have formally committed.
“We’re in that middle school dance phase,” he said. “No one’s on the dance floor yet.”
Cartin and Summit County Sustainability Manager Emily Quinton said they expected to address their respective councils in coming weeks.
The draft agreement that outlines this proposal indicates that it wouldn’t become effective until five communities commit to anchoring the program, and Cartin and Quinton said there isn’t a chance that Park City and Summit County could be the only anchor communities, leaving them each holding a $350,000 bill.
“If at any time we’re going through the program and we’re done, we could kill it,” Cartin said.
Serving as anchor communities would give Park City and Summit County more voting power in designing the program and selecting the eventual energy projects, Cartin said.
Summit County Chief Civil Deputy Attorney Dave Thomas told the County Council that being an anchor community would bolster the county’s role in designing the program.
“The anchor communities will have the ability to influence the overall contract with Rocky Mountain Power,” he said. “That’s the advantage of being an anchor community, is you have one of those seats at that table.”
Officials also indicated that serving as an anchor community would further the leadership role each community has taken in sustainability efforts. Cartin said Park City and Summit County have been “leading the charge” since 2017.
He estimated potential anchor community costs in the low thousands of dollars, comparing that to the more than $20 million spent on electricity annually inside the Park City boundaries.
He indicated the investment might be warranted for the city to have a say in a program that will affect such a large aspect of the local economy.
County councilors appeared split during a brief discussion Feb. 17, with Chris Robinson explaining the situation, Glenn Wright indicating he was open to the idea and Roger Armstrong expressing some skepticism.
Robinson said the easy thing would be for the county to wait and see what other communities do and take a backseat position.
“It’s a question of whether we want to lead out like we have in other things and be a catalyst for making it happen, or just be along for the ride,” Robinson said.
Communities that have signed on to the program face a July 31 first payment deadline, but communities may commit to the program as late as January 31, 2022.
The County Council is expected to discuss the issue at its meeting Wednesday.
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Jenn Armstrong-Solomon provides the services of her trauma-sensitive yoga nonprofit, Tall Mountain Wellness, free of charge to groups like the Summit County Drug Court and the county jail.