Rocky Mountain Power and its parent company PacifiCorp generated some good news and bad news recently when they announced plans for a large investment in renewable energy. According to its press statement, Rocky Mountain Power intends to invest $3.5 billion for renewable energy infrastructure. That is the good news. Such an investment will undoubtedly generate thousands of jobs, as well as increasing the availability of new, clean energy for Utah. It sounds fantastic. So what’s the bad news?
The bad news (for Utah) is that, even though Rocky Mountain Power must request clearance from its regulator, the Utah Public Service Commission (PSC), this huge new investment will be targeted mainly in Wyoming and Idaho, despite the fact that the renewable energy they produce will be sold mostly to Utah consumers. Wyoming and Idaho will be thrilled with the millions in tax revenues and thousands of new jobs; Utah will receive little, if any, such benefit, yet will still have to pay for the transmission lines to bring it here.
So now elected leaders and legislators from Utah’s more rural counties have one question: “Why?” Why would the Utah PSC approve the use of precious Utah ratepayer-generated capital to create jobs and opportunity in other states? Let’s rewind back to January and Gov. Gary Herbert’s State of the State address. In it the governor acknowledged the need for broadening Utah’s prosperity to include all 29 Utah counties, not just the more populous, urban counties that are thriving economically. Specifically, he committed to help in the creation of 25,000 new private sector jobs in 25 of Utah’s more rural counties.
Citizens and leaders alike in those 25 counties greeted the governor’s statements with tremendous enthusiasm. Such a commitment to rural Utah counties is long overdue and would pay dividends for investors and consumers for decades to come. Everyone knew it wouldn’t be easy, but the governor promised to try.
That is why so many of us are puzzled to learn that our state-regulated electric utility is seeking approval to divert Utah-generated resources to benefit other states, when Utah is so perfectly positioned to fully deploy that same investment and development here at home.
Utah’s rural communities have a proud history in energy production, but past decades have seen Utah’s coal industry decimated. From 2001 to 2015, Utah coal production fell by half, killing thousands of jobs. Fortunately, Utah also boasts a strong renewable energy industry with immense untapped capacity, based mostly in the same rural counties the governor promised to help, with tremendous need for additional infrastructure and investment to facilitate Utah energy production and job creation.
Renewable energy sources will never completely replace coal and natural gas, but continued growth in this sector can at least begin to restore jobs and economic stability to stricken communities. Companies in other affected regions are offering training programs to displaced coal workers for wind and solar technician jobs. Along with the construction, such opportunities here in Utah could do much to advance the governor’s stated goal of 25,000 new jobs in rural counties, while permanently expanding Utah’s renewable energy sector.
We respectfully encourage Gov. Herbert (who appoints the PSC) to reject plans to export millions of dollars and thousands of jobs to other states in order to meet Utah’s energy demand. The governor knows that investment could be put to even more productive use right here at home, delivering growth and jobs for Utah’s rural families. We hope the governor will use his considerable influence to support Utah’s rural workers. Together we can fulfill his commitment to restore badly needed economic growth and opportunity to counties beyond the Wasatch Front by keeping our investment dollars right here in Utah.
Stan Summers is Box Elder County Commission chair.
Garth “Tooter” Ogden is Sevier County Commission chair.
Mark Whitney is Beaver County Commission chair.