CEDAR CITY, Utah — Rocky Mountain Power's CEO announced the utility will not be able to be on 100% renewable energy sources by 2030.
In remarks at Governor Spencer Cox's One Utah Summit focused on rural issues, Rocky Mountain Power's CEO Gary Hoogeveen confirmed they would not reach a 100% green energy portfolio by 2030. It would likely be closer to 2050.
"Getting to 75% reduction by 2030 is very tough and that requires a lot of renewables to be built, a lot of storage," he told the crowd. "Meaning batteries, pump storage, anything else you can think of and advanced technologies to get to that."
The announcement will not impact Salt Lake City and other Utah communities' participation in the Community Renewable Energy Program, which puts the cities on 100% "clean electricity" by 2030. Rocky Mountain Power also noted that "net zero" energy, like the program has, isn't entirely from renewable sources but utilizes carbon offsets.
In a statement to FOX 13, Salt Lake City Mayor Erin Mendenhall called on the utility to speed up its plans.
"Salt Lake City is excited to be achieving our 100% clean electricity goals by no later than 2030 through the Community Renewable Energy Program and we’ve appreciated Rocky Mountain Power's partnership in making this happen. But the climate science is clear—the world needs to reduce emissions to net zero by 2050. The electricity sector, because it is the easiest and cheapest sector to decarbonize, needs to cut emissions faster than other sectors," she said.
"With almost 40% of Rocky Mountain Power’s Utah load eligible to join the Community Renewable Energy Program, we believe the program could accelerate their ability to achieve net zero energy before the middle of the century. We encourage Rocky Mountain Power to embrace a more ambitious goal across their entire portfolio-- for every community-- and make a firmer and faster commitment. Our future depends on swift action."
Thom Carter, who serves as Governor Spencer Cox's energy advisor, said Rocky Mountain Power has worked quickly to get more renewable energy sources in its portfolio.
"If we look as a full state or as a nation to get to actual zero without offsets and opportunities, it’s just not possible by 2030," he told FOX 13.
Carter said that while the Cox administration is pushing more diverse energy sources statewide, the state would not mandate any kind of 2030 goal. Instead, it would let market forces decide that.
One environmental group said it was disappointed, but not surprised by Hoogeveen's remarks.
"We know that in order to avoid the worst case scenarios from climate change, we need to reduce emissions from the power sector by at least 80% by 2030 and be close to net zero by 2035," said Noah Miterko, a policy analyst for the Healthy Environmental Alliance of Utah.
Miterko said he still believed Rocky Mountain Power could be pressured into accelerating its plans by ratepayers and more cities signing up to be on clean energy sources.
"The utility has done some good things lately in investment in renewable energy and supporting clean energy programs," he told FOX 13, adding: "They’ve stopped short of articulating a vision for 100% clean energy future and I think that’s something Utahns deserve."
Hoogeveen said Rocky Mountain Power was prepared to spend potentially hundreds of billions to upgrade transmission lines. It's a key investment that is necessary to move to renewable energy sources, Carter said.
"Our current grid is based on fossil fuel generation and as you shift from a renewable generation, you need a harder line. You need new generation, you need stronger generation," he said.
But Hoogeveen also told the crowd at the One Utah Summit that it was looking to add even more cleaner energy sources to its portfolio.
"We are decarbonizing our generation from what it was essentially nearly 100% fossil and hydro, of course, and trying to get to 100% decarbonized," he said. "In order to do that you need some new technology. You cannot do it by just building wind and solar and batteries. That won’t get you there. If you turn your lights on when the wind isn’t blowing and the sun isn’t shining and the batteries have depleted because they only last a few hours? You’re not going to have lights."
Rocky Mountain Power recently announced its participation in an experiment converting a Wyoming coal power plant into a small-scale nuclear power plant. Hoogeveen hinted that if it were successful, the utility's two Utah power plants in eastern Utah could become nuclear plants. He said it could save jobs in Carbon and Emery counties when the plants are scheduled to retire in the next couple of decades.
"At some point, they too shall come down," Hoogeveen said. "And this nuclear opportunity would be a great place, again we’re talking 15 years in the future, to build a nuclear at Hunter and Huntington. So stay tuned for many, many years, but that is the hope."
HEAL Utah, which opposes the project, said it was still early in the experiment and may be more costly.
"They are likely to face economic economic barriers that similar size renewable energies would not," Miterko said.
Carter said it was not a guarantee that Utah gets nuclear power plants.
"I will agree they did hint at it," he said. "I’m not sure if it was a commitment."