Guest opinion: Park City needs PacifiCorp to end its reliance on fossil fuels

Susan Rothman
Park City

With every passing day that brings little or no snow as we head into another winter here in Park City, I am reminded that the effects of climate change are happening now in Utah, from diminished snowpack and prolonged drought to record-breaking heat and more intense wildfires.

As a Park City resident, I am encouraged the city has set ambitious goals aiming for the community to reach net-zero carbon emissions by 2030. And as a member of the Park City Community Foundation’s board, I am heartened that the Community Foundation has created the Park City Climate Fund to provide resources to support our community’s goals for reducing the city’s carbon emissions that contribute to climate change.

Yet for Park City to truly have an impact in addressing climate change and to serve as a leader and model for other mountain town communities, we need to quickly reduce greenhouse gas emissions from the electricity sector across our state and region. It is therefore concerning that the long-term electricity resource plan that PacifiCorp (doing business as Rocky Mountain Power in Utah) filed in September falls short in reaching the timeline that scientists say is needed to reduce economy-wide emissions of the greenhouse gas pollution that causes climate change.

The global scientific consensus is clear: We must achieve net-zero emissions economy-wide by 2050 to avoid catastrophic climate disruption. Because proven and cost-effective technology already exists to reduce emissions from electricity generation, we must start with the power sector. If we can reduce emissions from electricity generation at least 80% by 2030 and be net-zero by 2035, we will have a chance to also successfully reduce emissions from other economic sectors, such as transportation, buildings, and industry.

PacifiCorp says it will add substantial amounts of renewable energy generation and reduce its greenhouse gas emissions 74% by 2030, and these steps are commendable. But PacifiCorp also plans to continue its fossil-fuel generation and coal plant operations past 2040.

In addition to climate risk, continued reliance on fossil fuels also creates financial risks. PacifiCorp will pass those risks on to its customers. These risks include increasing coal and natural gas prices, fuel price volatility, and costs associated with new climate-focused regulation. Regional haze compliance requirements from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency also may create additional costs for PacifiCorp’s coal plants that would be passed along to ratepayers.

PacifiCorp serves customers in Washington, Oregon and California, in addition to Utah, Idaho and Wyoming, and I am aware that recent laws passed in Oregon and Washington require coal-fired power to be removed from electricity rates in those states no later than 2030. As a result, PacifiCorp may ask Utah, Idaho and Wyoming to take on additional operating, maintenance and potential reclamation costs and risks associated with its large fleet of coal power plants. Utah accounts for the largest share of PacifiCorp’s load, at 43%, and Utah regulators and policy makers will need to make important decisions about whether the state is willing to assume additional economic and environmental costs and risks of the long-lived coal plants across PacifiCorp’s system.

The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, a group of global scientists, noted in its major report this past August that some of the devastating impacts of climate change cannot be averted, due to our decades of fossil-fuel use. But we still have a small window of time to take steps to avoid the worst impacts of the climate crisis and preserve the natural world we love, here in Park City and beyond. PacifiCorp should commit to do its part and end its fossil-fuel electricity generation by 2035, if not sooner.


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