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Voices of 100%: Moab Anchors Utah Community Renewable Energy Program

To preserve its unique natural environment and the regional economy, Moab and other Utah cities have created a pathway to procure 100% renewable power by 2030.

For this episode of our Voices of 100% series of the Local Energy Rules Podcast, host John Farrell talks with Moab Sustainability Director Mila Dunbar-Irwin and City Council Member Kalen Jones. Moab is an anchor community for the Community Renewable Energy Act. Using their collective buying power, Moab and other participating cities will negotiate for 100% renewable energy from utility Rocky Mountain Power.

Listen to the full episode and explore more resources below — including a transcript and summary of the conversation.

Episode Transcript


Moab Sets Out On its Own

Jones was elected to the Moab City Council in 2016. Soon after, he visited Park City, Utah, which had already adopted a 100% renewable electricity goal. Jones returned to Moab and worked to establish a similar goal for the city.

In 2017, Moab became the 23rd city to commit to 100% renewable energy. The city originally planned to reach this benchmark by 2032 and paired it with the goal to reduce greenhouse gas emissions 80% by 2040.

Dunbar-Irwin started as Moab’s sustainability director in 2021. With an ambitious goal in place and the deadline nearing, she has been tasked with crafting a climate action plan. With the help of ICLEI, Moab has already completed a greenhouse gas inventory. The city has also installed rooftop solar panels on 5 public buildings.

“There’s… a desire for local self-reliance and for the benefits to be realized by the individual customers, as well as our utility.” — Kalen Jones

Utah’s Community Renewable Energy Act

Utah’s Community Renewable Energy Act (HB 411), passed in 2019, establishes a framework for Utah communities pursuing 100% renewable energy. 22 cities have committed to 100% renewable energy and can sign the governance agreement by 2022. After signing on, they join the community renewable energy agency board. The board — which Rocky Mountain Power is not a part of — designs the program and presents it to the Utah Public Service Commission.

Customers in participating communities may opt out of the program and return to the energy mix previously offered by Rocky Mountain Power. Jones believes, however, that the electricity rate will not change much under the new program. There will also be a low-income program as part of the new rate structure.

“Group bargaining power can’t be underestimated… making those partnerships and really telling the utilities what you’re interested in, I think can be pretty convincing.” — Mila Dunbar-Irwin

Utah Cities Move Forward, With the Utility

On the surface, Utah’s policy compares to community choice energy, but has some fundamental differences. Under community choice, municipalities and counties band together to create a not-for-profit entity and source their own energy. They use the incumbent utility for distribution and billing. Utilities in California fought against community choice legislation for years, since it shifts their power to the public.

Rocky Mountain Power (RMP), the utility that serves most of Utah, was supportive of the Community Renewable Energy Act. In its case, no separate entity is created to replace the utility and RMP is still the power provider. Dunbar-Irwin says that Rocky Mountain Power will own many of the renewable resources built to provide more renewable energy. The formal process for RMP’s involvement is still in development.

“We’re in that unique position of being able to work directly with our utility that’s willing to do this with us.” — Mila Dunbar-Irwin

Rocky Mountain Power plans to move to a mostly renewable resource mix, says Dunbar-Irwin. Their current resource plan indicates a goal of net zero emissions by 2050.


Listen to episode 129 of Local Energy Rules: How Big Utilities’ Climate Pledges Fall Short.


Making Progress Beyond the Electricity Supply

Moab is the closest stop for tourists visiting one of two stunning national parks: Arches and Canyonlands. All of the traffic from tourism means that to eliminate emissions, Moab must do more than clean its electricity supply. To generate solutions with others, Moab is a member of Mountain Towns 2030: a collection of ski towns allied to address climate change. The city is also working with the tribal council to campaign for lessened tourist impact, says Dunbar-Irwin.

One issue that Moab has started to address is transportation. The city is putting together a shuttle service to Arches, says Dunbar-Irwin, and has also installed many fast chargers to encourage electric vehicle adoption.

Additionally, says Jones, Moab has implemented solutions to protect its dark skies. More efficient outdoor lighting, which has less light pollution, uses less energy. In partnering with Rocky Mountain Power to install LED street lights, the utility has been able to expand this service to other cities.

“Even for big seemingly faceless corporations, there are people on the ground that have hearts and minds. And if you can engage them in a respectful and friendly way, sometimes you can make inroads that you don’t expect.” — Kalen Jones

Episode Notes

See these resources for more behind the story:

For concrete examples of how towns and cities can take action toward gaining more control over their clean energy future, explore ILSR’s Community Power Toolkit.

Explore local and state policies and programs that help advance clean energy goals across the country, using ILSR’s interactive Community Power Map.


This is the 33rd episode of our special  Voices of 100%series, and episode 145 of Local Energy Rules, an ILSR podcast with Energy Democracy Director John Farrell, which shares powerful stories of successful local renewable energy and exposes the policy and practical barriers to its expansion.

Local Energy Rules is Produced by ILSR’s John Farrell and Maria McCoy. Audio engineering by Drew Birschbach.

Originally published on ILSR.org. For timely updates, follow John Farrell on Twitter, our energy work on Facebook, or sign up to get the Energy Democracy weekly update

 
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Written By

John directs the Democratic Energy program at ILSR and he focuses on energy policy developments that best expand the benefits of local ownership and dispersed generation of renewable energy. His seminal paper, Democratizing the Electricity System, describes how to blast the roadblocks to distributed renewable energy generation, and how such small-scale renewable energy projects are the key to the biggest strides in renewable energy development.   Farrell also authored the landmark report Energy Self-Reliant States, which serves as the definitive energy atlas for the United States, detailing the state-by-state renewable electricity generation potential. Farrell regularly provides discussion and analysis of distributed renewable energy policy on his blog, Energy Self-Reliant States (energyselfreliantstates.org), and articles are regularly syndicated on Grist and Renewable Energy World.   John Farrell can also be found on Twitter @johnffarrell, or at jfarrell@ilsr.org.

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