Summit County’s renewable energy plan moves forward despite reservations from Council chair
Summit County’s push to use 100% renewable energy is moving forward, but the elected official who has been spearheading the issue for years has reservations about the deal that’s being proposed and what it could mean for the county’s options going forward.
The 15-year deal would lock the county into purchasing almost all of its power from a planned solar farm starting in 2023. Summit County is one of a half-dozen partners, including Salt Lake City, Vail Resorts and Park City, that have asked Rocky Mountain Power to procure their energy needs from a renewable resource. County Council Chair Roger Armstrong criticized aspects of the deal during last week’s meeting ahead of a December deadline to sign the agreement.
“I think the issue for me is the entire energy paradigm is still very much in flux, and we don’t really know where it’s going, and yet we’re going to put a stake in the sand and say we’re going to commit to this for 15 years,” Armstrong said.
After an extensive vetting process, the stakeholders chose a new, 80-megawatt solar farm to provide their renewable energy. The power would be used for municipal uses and does not include residents. A separate initiative for private residents, called the Community Renewable Energy Program, is progressing on a similar timeline.
Christine Mikell, the CEO of the company that’s building the solar farm, Enyo Renewable Energy, said it will be spread over 640 acres in Tooele and is planned to have power entering the grid by the end of 2022.
That would mean the county could reach its goal of providing 100% of its energy from renewable resources almost a decade before its 2032 target date.
Armstrong noted the changing economic climate for renewable energy and the likelihood that prices won’t stay stable over the next decade and a half, possibly disadvantaging the county as it would be locked into paying one rate as technology progresses.
Additionally, he worried that if the county’s energy consumption wanes, it would still be required to purchase the amount of energy it had committed to in the original deal or risk paying an annual “true-up” cost.
Despite Armstrong’s reservations, the County Council generally indicated support for the plan. In an interview, Armstrong said there are several positive aspects to the proposal, and that he had not been moved to stop supporting it.
Summit County has not yet committed to the deal and can still pull out without financial penalty. The expected deadline for the County Council to review and vote on the proposal is Dec. 1, after the rates are officially set by the Public Service Commission.
If the county were to withdraw, the other members of the coalition would have to absorb the 5 to 6 megawatts the county said it would use, imperiling the entire arrangement, said Lisa Yoder, the county’s sustainability manager.
Yoder agreed that Armstrong’s points were valid, but said the deal is vastly superior to the alternatives.
“This is basically handed to us on a silver platter,” she said.
The rates have been set internally and shared with the coalition members, and Yoder called the price for energy “exceptional.” She would not share the exact cost, citing a non-disclosure agreement signed by the involved parties.
She pushed back on Armstrong’s assertions that the county’s energy use would fall, pointing out that as new buildings come on line, the county increasingly turns to electric vehicles and natural gas heat is converted to electric, consumption will likely rise.
A “conservative” estimate of the county’s energy usage pegs the number at the end of the 15-year deal to rise about 10 percent to 6.4 megawatts, according to Darcy Glenn, the county’s sustainability energy and data analyst.
Yoder said she did not expect the county to pay a true-up cost, which would be “negligible” if incurred.
The renewable energy deal is expected to cost between $15,000 and $21,000 more than current energy costs annually over the 15-year contract life until 2037. That cost includes a $6,000 annual fee for Rocky Mountain Power to administer the program, the construction of the solar farm and the $1.2 million cost to connect the project to the grid, costs split across the coalition members.
Yoder said the $1.2 million interconnection cost was one of the lowest and that some bids included estimates upwards of $25 million. She added that Mikell’s company, Enyo Renewable Energy, was much further ahead in the interconnection queue and approval process than other applicants.
Salt Lake City has by far the highest expected annual energy consumption among the partners in the deal, at 38 megawatts, followed by Utah Valley University at 15 megawatts. Summit County has projected 5.8 megawatts of consumption and Park City claimed 5 megawatts.
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