This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2015, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.
Rocky Mountain Power, sellers and distributors of most of the electricity in Utah, has announced a wish list of regulatory changes it seeks to modernize its system. Utah legislators should embrace RMP's move and thoroughly scrutinize it in a transparent process.
The company's pitch, announced Tuesday at the governor's Air and Energy Symposium, is that this is a forward-looking effort to get cleaner and more efficient. It includes incentives for electric car buyers (around $2,000), a "net-zero energy" prototype housing development and a commercial-scale battery installation to store power.
It's also a major restructuring of the company's regulatory environment to allow it to better compete and, it says, help Utah better compete, including a change to allow accelerated depreciation of coal assets. (Although that, by itself, does not mean less coal burning.)
The backdrop is the surprisingly rapid evolution in energy economics, including coal's growing environmental costs and the declining prices for solar and battery technologies. RMP put its toe in the water of those shifting economics last year when it proposed a $4 fee on "net meterers" who generate their own rooftop solar power, and the public pushed back sharply. So now the power company is coming back with an even more fundamental shift: charging customers separately for the power they use and the electrical grid that supplies it.
RMP generally has received high approval ratings from customers. Those ratings no doubt are helped by a very distinct Utah fact: We have cheap electrical energy, largely from cheap coal and natural gas. Add to that an abundance of sunshine, and the solar future is looking pretty good, too. Along with cheap wages and cheap taxes, cheap energy forms the holy troika of economic stimulus that has Forbes magazine and others praising Utah.
And RMP wants more. It wants to lift a state restriction on offering differing rates to business customers so that it can offer incentives to attract new business, like the Governor's Office of Economic Development does.
To pay for the economic-development and electric-car incentives, clean-coal research and the solar and battery projects, RMP wants to repurpose "Customer Efficiency Services" money, which comes from a 3.6 percent to 4 percent charge that RMP customers already pay on their monthly bills. The money is now used for such things as incentives to replace old, wasteful appliances, which would continue.
This is an exceedingly complicated request that will test the legislators who must vote on it and the independent analysts and watchdog groups who advise them. Rocky Mountain says its plan is a win-win, and we need an open process to decide that for ourselves.