Voices of 100%: Moab Anchors Utah Community Renewable Energy Program — Episode 145 of Local Energy Rules

Date: 8 Dec 2021 | posted in: Energy, Energy Self Reliant States | 0 Facebooktwitterredditmail

To preserve its unique natural environment and the regional economy, Moab and other Utah cities have created a pathway to procure 100 percent 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 percent 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.

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Mila Dunbar-Irwin: I think also the group bargaining power can’t be underestimated. I think the first utility customers that were behind it were Summit County in Park City and Salt Lake. And all three of those represented a pretty large proportion of Rocky Mountain Power customers in the state. And so in making those partnerships and, you know, really telling the utilities what you’re interested in, I think can be pretty convincing.
John Farrell: Moab, Utah was one of the first U.S. communities to make a 100% renewable electricity commitment, and it may have one of the best options to achieve its goal. Thanks to a 2019 state law, the city can join forces with several of its peers to purchase 100% renewable electricity from the incumbent utility, or not, by 2030. Moab City Council Member Kalen Jones and City Sustainability Director Mila Dunbar-Irwin joined me in October, 2021 to discuss the city’s goal and the power of working together. I’m John Farrell, director of the Energy Democracy Initiative at the Institute for Local Self-Reliance and this is a Voices of 100% episode of Local Energy Rules, a bi-weekly podcast sharing powerful stories about local, renewable energy.

Mila and Kalen, welcome to Local Energy Rules.

Kalen Jones: Thank you. Good to be here.
John Farrell: I always like to start off just by asking my guests what got them into work around sustainability and climate change. What motivated you to work on an issue like a hundred percent renewable energy? You know, maybe it was constituents that really pressured you to work on this and that’s how you’ve come to it. Or I often have found that folks are coming to this from past experience in the field. Kalen, why don’t we start with you? I’m curious, what got you into this work?
Kalen Jones: Sure. So it’s a combination of those two things. Decades ago, I moved to Moab because of the amazing public landscape around here and was originally involved in environmental preservation work. And then I shifted my focus into architecture and development because that’s where many human impacts on the public lands start. And that eventually led me to a role in the county planning commission and ultimately to elected office with the city of Moab. Early in my time on the city council, I and another council member and some staff went up to Park City to learn about their visioning processes and how they translated into strategic planning and prioritization, what they delivered to the community. And one thing that I learned in our visit was that they had adopted a 100% renewable goal, and I found that very inspiring to learn about what the work they and other communities are doing towards this. And so I immediately made it a goal to pursue that at the city of Moab as well.
John Farrell: And Mila, how about you?
Mila Dunbar-Irwin: I’ve come to this work from a science background. I have an ecology degree and I did a lot of environmental education and guiding. So I’ve spent a lot of time talking with people about caring for the environment and making sustainable communities. And I ended up in Moab a little bit accidentally, and I was lucky enough to come here after the city council had already passed their a hundred percent renewable commitment. So I was super excited to just be able to dive right into the sustainability work that the groundwork had already been laid. And we’re sort of heading on from there.
John Farrell: There are over a hundred cities that have made a hundred percent renewable electricity commitments like Moab has, and Moab was one of the first, I think, 25 or so. A lot of these commitments kind of differ in terms of their scope and timeline. I had a really interesting conversation recently with folks at another city where they talked – in Iowa, where the goal in Des Moines was a net zero goal. And they kind of explained the difference between a net zero goal and their goal. Could you explain a little bit about what Moab has committed to and by when and, and talk a little bit about whether or not it was something that was hotly contested within the community or something that there was a lot of consensus around?
Kalen Jones: As I mentioned, following that visit with Park City, this work began with the city to follow in their footsteps. In 2017, the city made our first climate resolution, which was committing to 100% renewable electricity community-wide by 2032 and an 80% reduction in net greenhouse gases by 2040, relative to a 2018 benchmark. And this also included intermediate benchmarks and as well as a timeline for doing a baseline measurements and follow-up reporting requirements. In 2019 in response to the HB411, the community renewable energy act in Utah, a deadline was set for communities to commit to 100% renewable by 2030. And we updated our, that component of our climate resolution to meet that goal. So 100% renewable by 2030, and there was not a lot of controversy about it. I was actually impressed by the amount of support when we brought it to the table, the council chambers was packed with supporters. Overall, it seemed like we had a lot of support from the community to do this sort of work.
John Farrell: I was kind of curious, you know, looking up Moab on a map confessing that I did not know where it was located in Utah, and I’ve not been to that part of the country, but I have heard of Arches National Park, which I know is nearby. And was just curious if you feel like the proximity to that kind of national jewel played a role in terms of the community support for it? Or the interest for either of you in seeing the city make this kind of commitment?
Kalen Jones: I feel like it’s not directly related, but Arches, as well as the amazing landscape that it is a part of, attracts the sort of people that feel a connection to the environment and want to keep our air clean and our water clean. So indirectly the proximity of Arches plays a role.
Mila Dunbar-Irwin: Yeah. And we were chatting about this earlier, but it’s, it’s interesting because you know, the hundred percent renewable commitment isn’t really the whole story of our climate impact here in Moab, we’re a really small town of permanent residents and we get millions of visitors a year. So our actual big climate change drivers are, our greenhouse gas emissions are mostly from transportation, from visitors coming to Moab. You know, I think the a hundred percent renewable commitment is something that we have a lot of control over as a community and everybody’s supportive of. And then, you know, the Arches component is, is a little bit of a different piece of that puzzle.
John Farrell: Actually just a news story, I think it was just last week that the rental car company Hertz bought a hundred thousand model three Teslas and was just thinking, you know, in terms of that impact, right? You, I’m sure you have a lot of people flying in, driving in to visit a national park. So maybe there’s some hope there in terms of how folks arrive and come through the community in terms of their greenhouse gas emissions impact.

Let’s go back and talk about the commitment for the city though, as you mentioned to something that is within your control. But one thing that we’ve noticed these days is that because wind and solar power are so cost-effective, electricity is often the easiest strategy in terms of doing shifts to renewable energy. You know, like most a hundred percent cities, Moab doesn’t have a utility that it owns. It doesn’t have a municipal utility. I’m really interested in, in talking to you more about HB 411. So this community energy act that gives Moab an option that’s not available in other places around the country. How did that come about? What does it allow you to do that’s different from how other cities have to approach this issue of renewable electricity?

Mila Dunbar-Irwin: So it’s actually, it’s interesting. It was a combination of some of the Northern Utah communities proposing this bill. And then with the support of Rocky Mountain Power, it did make it through our legislature. And what it does is that essentially it makes the legal framework for any Utah communities that pass a hundred percent renewable commitment by 2030 to be part of the community renewable energy agency. And they can join that board, which is working on putting together a proposal for the actual renewable resource to be developed. And then, as well as doing the rate proposals, and then developing a low-income process. So it established the legal framework for all of these communities to get together and work out all the details for how their demand will be met by a hundred percent renewable resources by 2030. And then Rocky Mountain Power is part of the process. They actually may or may not end up owning the eventual resource, but it’s likely that they will, and they have been at the table from the beginning. So we’re, we’re in that unique position of being able to work directly with our utility that’s willing to do this with us.
John Farrell: Yeah. I think that’s really the most remarkable point here and what I find so fascinating about it is that I think if people looked at it on its face, they would say, okay, well, Utah is a state that it’s a red state, right? It’s predominantly Republican in its politics, at least in terms of its national politicians, we wouldn’t expect to see them passing legislation that makes it easier for cities to go to renewable energy. And yet here you have, frankly, one of the more novel approaches to this around the country. There are states that have community choice energy laws that give cities the freedom to both pool together and to go out and shop for renewable electricity. But very rarely is the utility involved as a partner, which I think is pretty extraordinary. Can you tell me a little bit more about how Rocky Mountain Power is part of the process? Are they helping to identify potential resources or are they just helping communities to understand kind of the process of electricity procurement? What is the role that they have in that board that’s helping to have this conversation about how these communities will get to a hundred percent renewable?
Mila Dunbar-Irwin: Well, they do not have a seat at the board. The board is composed entirely of communities. We are essentially so far, mostly just working with them. So the communities are working together to come up with the proposals and then Rocky Mountain Power will be part of that conversation. And I think the specific details of exactly how that’s going to play out, haven’t been worked out yet.
John Farrell: You’re a, what is it, building the airplane as you’re flying it, or something? I’ve heard some other interesting metaphors like that.
Kalen Jones: Yeah, I’m sure it will be engaged with Rocky Mountain Power more later in the process. But at this time, the bill was passed, communities made the commitment, and now for the past six months, we’ve been focused on our own internal organization and starting to hire consultants to help us with the rate negotiation and procurement of the energy resources. It’s likely that it’ll an RFP will be issued, which will be, I imagine a fairly large new block of renewable resources and possibly storage to accompany it.
Mila Dunbar-Irwin: And I think something that’s important to note is that Rocky Mountain Power is also moving towards renewables on their own. Um, their, Pacific Corp is the company that owns Rocky Mountain Power. And they have an IRP that indicates they’re going to be zero carbon emissions, net zero by 2050. So they are actually already developing other renewable resources as well.
Kalen Jones: Mila, what does IRP stand for?
Mila Dunbar-Irwin: Integrated resource plan. Great question.
John Farrell: I so glad you asked that that’s usually my job to try to avoid those, but sometimes there are ones like that that are so familiar for me as we get involved in intervening in resource plans here that, uh, I missed that so thanks Kalen.

We’re going to take a short break. When we come back, I’ll ask how equity is being incorporated into Moab’s clean energy goals, the other strategies the city is employing to reach its renewable energy goals, and what advice Mila and Kalen have for leaders of other cities. You’re listening to a Local Energy Rules Voices of 100% podcast with Moab city council member Kalen Jones and city sustainability director, Mila Dunbar-Irwin.

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John Farrell: I did hear you mention, Mila, as part of this process one of the things that you’re looking at is how it might impact low income customers. And that’s one of the things I wanted to ask about is a lot of other cities have been pursuing their goals. They’ve also been focused on this issue of equity, making sure that there’s affordability for low-income residents or in some cases, making sure that like Native American or People of Color that have lived near polluting power plants have an opportunity to benefit more. Could you talk a little bit more about that low-income provision and other things that you’re thinking about that just kind of center equity in this conversation about the transition to renewable energy?
Mila Dunbar-Irwin: Moab is lucky enough that we don’t actually have any power plants here. So we don’t have a geographical problem of pollution equity, but we do have a low-income program already available to Rocky Mountain Power customers. And there’s a low-income committee as part of the community renewable energy agency that will be working to make sure that that stays part of the rate structure going forward. We don’t have the details worked out, since we don’t have all of our rates worked out yet either, but it will absolutely be part of the final product.
Kalen Jones: A high-level provision in the Community Renewable Energy Act is that it’s opt out instead of opt in. So all customers will automatically be enrolled. And then there’s a mechanism whereby at multiple off-ramps they can get out of it. We’re hoping given the declining costs of renewable energy, that there will be little to any difference between the standard grid mix pricing and what this program offers. But that remains to be seen.
John Farrell: When we did a report on community choice programs early last year, we found that in some cases, the cost is actually lower in the ones that are in states where the communities were not working directly with the utility. So it was a different product that they were offering from their own resource mix. But a lot of times the cost was lower. Or if the default option was, as in this case, a hundred percent renewable, it might be a slight premium. And then again, people could, I think they had this, they had this chart that I still remember of these arrows of like, you could, you could opt out, but you could also opt down. So you could say, okay, well, I, I don’t want to leave the community-based resource option, but I want to opt out of the hundred percent one and go back to the one that’s the similar grid mix, maybe 30% renewable or something like that. So it was interesting how those different options gave people some flexibility. It’s nice to hear that you have something similar in terms of what you’re able to offer people to opt out if they are, for whatever reason, uncomfortable with it. Although I hear that you’re hopeful, and I think it makes a lot of sense that it would be competitively priced given what we’ve seen with wind and solar.

I was curious other than, and I think, Mila I really appreciate you kind of highlighting that as a community that has a lot of visitors over the course of the year, there’s more to your climate goals and your clean energy picture than just your a hundred percent renewable electricity. I’m curious, is there, are there other ways that you’ve been working toward those goals, things that do affect the visitors to the community? Are there other ways outside of this, uh, community, renewable energy act conversation about a hundred percent renewable electricity that you’re partnering with some of the other cities? I noticed it was, I think something like two dozen cities that were at least initially considering and numerous ones that had signed on. So I was interested in knowing if there were other ways that you’re partnering or other things that you’ve already done as part of your efforts around climate and clean energy.

Mila Dunbar-Irwin: So here in town, we have already been investing in rooftop solar on a lot of the city buildings. I think we’ve almost maxed out our rooftop space as far as the municipal buildings go. So the city has been investing in that for the past, about 10 years. And then the other thing that we’ve been doing, which is great and actually not just the city, but other community members, is installing quite a lot of electric car chargers. So we have a, I think we’re up to four AC fast chargers already in town, some of which are Tesla and some of which are actually at the Rocky Mountain Power station here. And we actually have a, um, as far as saturation goes for per vehicle registrations in Grand County, I think our ratio of chargers to vehicles is better than even California’s right now. So we’re definitely taking the lead there.

And, uh, we’ve had a number of the bigger electric vehicle companies are pretty interested in Moab. Tesla is coming down here to do a kind of demonstration test drive event. And then Rivian has been test driving their trucks on our trails quite a bit. So there’s definitely an interest in more electric car saturation down in, in Moab. We are a little bit far away from other charging stations, which I think is our only disadvantage there, but it does seem like it’s going to be something that’ll be adopted here pretty soon. We’re also working on an integrated transportation plan. So trying to alleviate some of that pressure, people still have to get here. We’re a remote community. You know, there’s not good public transportation from any other major cities to get down here yet, but we are working to develop potentially a shuttle system to get out to Arches, to at least get some of the local traffic off the roads.

Kalen Jones: So in addition to those things, Moab is also partners with other communities. We’re a member of Mountain Towns 2030. Ski towns are on the frontline of climate change as far as threats to their economy and identities. And so they are working together to via various networks, but most prominently in the climate realm Mountain Towns 2030 to ally to address climate change issues and solutions. And so as part of this, they had their first conference in the fall prior to the pandemic. And as part of that, a consultant, I’m forgetting their name, Mila? Offered to provide greenhouse gas emissions inventories to member communities. And so thanks to them, we were able to get our first inventory done, which gives us the baseline to let us know what to work towards, including the information that we’re going to have to focus on transportation as well as just our electricity impacts.
Mila Dunbar-Irwin: Yeah, that was a great opportunity. We, it was a through ICLEI, the local governments… Gosh, I don’t remember what that acronym stands for.
John Farrell: I know their work as well, but also cannot remember what that stands for.
Mila Dunbar-Irwin: Um, but they, they did, they provided us, uh, both technical assistance and then also access to a GHG accounting software, which was fantastic. And we were lucky enough to engage a grad student to work on that inventory for us.
Kalen Jones: Another parallel effort that the city has been working on is protecting the dark skies around Moab. We have fantastic sky viewing. And so we’ve been working to protect those. And that has a number of co-benefits including better outdoor lighting typically uses less energy. This started really as a more of a cooperative partnership. It has resulted in changes to our land use code, but it’s really been focused on the benefits and Rocky Mountain Power was brought in on this work early in the process. And so it’s been a learning process for both sides, but they have learned about the value and benefits of better outdoor lighting and have in turn, been able to offer that to their other customers. The city of Moab is working with them to replace our streetlights with high efficiency LED that also protect the dark skies. So we’re going to be killing two birds with one stone, to use a very poor analogy in this case.
John Farrell: I love hearing about this though. I have to say personally, I still remember when I, my wife and I visited the grand canyon before we had kids. So now over a decade ago, we drove through Flagstaff and I still remember that we were coming through at night. And how funny it was that you didn’t even realize when you had gotten from the countryside into the city, because there was no glow on the horizon. As you drove and all of the lighting was very muted and focused just on the places like you were driving or on the sidewalks or whatever, but none of it, it was escaping up into the sky. And so you still had this beautiful view of the night sky and yet, and there was plenty of light for what you needed to do on the ground as well. But I’ve just ever since then, it’s just been fascinating to both understand, like, this has a principle of like preserving this view of our night skies, but also the fact that it really has this strong intersection with energy and climate as well.
Kalen Jones: So I think another thing that is interesting is where we have some of our, um, failed or aborted projects, because as we’ve been discussing, we are focused on a very large scale grid level solution, which has the benefits that it’s likely the lowest cost and potentially the fastest implementation, which given the climate crisis is an appropriate response, but there’s also a desire for local self-reliance and for the benefits to be realized by the individual customers, as well as our utility. So the city attempted to negotiate with Rocky Mountain Power to do a community scale solar project on one of our properties, close to town, but we couldn’t really come to terms that made it feasible. Our local airport, which is a county entity, was very interested in pursuing community or even larger scale solar because they have a bunch of open space around them, but that’s on public lands and the development costs there are higher. And the transmission lines that run through our area are kind of maxed out to absorb the sort of power surges that renewable resources can generate. So that didn’t pan out.

In addition, last October, the state implemented power purchase rates for rooftop solar substantially lower than what they had been in the past, which really made the payback time for rooftop solar unreasonably long. And I’m concerned about how that’s going to affect the solar installation companies in our state, as well as the benefits of resiliency that you would get from having local generation. And I’m not sure what the solutions for those are, given that this is fundamentally a red state at the state legislative level. So I don’t know if federal intervention might be helpful in terms of shifting the playing field to support local resiliency in generation. We’re still hoping that as part of the mix for achieving our goals, but at this time, most of our effort is on the work of the Utah 100 communities and our partnership there.

John Farrell: I’m really glad you already mentioned this idea about where the solutions might be state or federal or whatnot. Cause I was meaning to insert a question here, just to ask you, knowing that your community is relatively small and that some of the climate impacts that you’re trying to deal with are generated by folks that are just visiting, if there is some advocacy work that you’re doing — the city of Minneapolis, where I’m from and have also done some local advocacy, for example, hired a person that has been doing advocacy at the public utilities commission or public service commission that oversees the utility to help make sure that the city’s goals and interests are represented there when they’re talking about things like rates for solar compensation. Is that part of your plan, or part of efforts that you’re making either with other cities or on your own?
Kalen Jones: I would say that to a large extent, Salt Lake City is a large Rocky Mountain Power customer, as well as the state Capitol. And so we rely on some of our heavyweight partners to take the lead on some of this work and we play a supporting role, but one recent example and maybe Mila could speak to supporting the electrification in the building code.
Mila Dunbar-Irwin: Yeah, I would say, you know, being such a small city, we don’t generally allocate money for lobbyists or anything like that. We don’t, we don’t have that luxury, but we do have some wonderful partners up north, one of which, uh, Utah Clean Energy, they’ve proposed changing the building code at the state level to require electrification at the time of construction. So essentially just installing outlets and wiring so that if a person who moved into that house wanted to eventually electrify all of their appliances, then all of the wiring and everything would be there. So that’s something that people are working on advocating for up at the state level, um, similar with some water conservation measures as well in residential construction. You know, it’s, it is a tough environment up there as far as requiring things for buildings in particular. And so we are currently exploring our own options locally to do some of that through our zoning, the state does allow a lot of freedom in using the zoning code to achieve some of those things.

So I think it’s, uh, the advocacy definitely goes, we, we do talk to our partners up north as much as possible. And our Tribal council is also a big information piece for visitors to town and they are definitely on the sustainability train at this point. We’ve been working with them to develop some better visitor information campaigns about less impact. And I think we’ll continue to work with them as we move forward, to be able to give visitors a sort of easy pathways where they would be able to lessen their impact just during their few days here.

John Farrell: I know we’ve already taken up a lot of your time, but we’re hoping to just wrap up by asking you what advice you might have as you’ve gone through this process yourselves and trying to address climate and clean energy locally. What advice do you have for other cities that are trying to achieve similarly ambitious goals?
Kalen Jones: We were chatting about this when we were talking to you, and we’re struggling with it a little bit just in part because each state is unique and what the role and interests of the utility and the perhaps the state level politics are. But in reflecting on the dark skies work and street-level, streetlight replacement, it seems like when you can do is build relationships and you don’t always know where there’s, they’re going to go, but 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, or in ways that bear fruits that you don’t necessarily anticipate at the beginning.
Mila Dunbar-Irwin: Yeah and I think also the group bargaining power can’t be underestimated. I think the first utility customers that were behind it were Summit County and Park City and Salt Lake. And all three of those represent a pretty large proportion of Rocky Mountain Power customers in the state. And so in making those partnerships and, you know, really telling the utilities what you’re interested in, I think can, can be pretty convincing.
John Farrell: Mila and Kalen, thank you so much for joining me today. I really appreciate the chance to learn about what you’ve been doing in Moab and what lessons it might provide for others who are trying to do this same journey.
Kalen Jones: Great. Thanks for providing this framework for sharing information about how other communities are working towards this goal. And I look forward to going through your back catalog and getting some inspiration and ideas from other places.
Mila Dunbar-Irwin: Yeah. Thank you so much. And I hope we check back in, in a few years when we’re a little bit further along.
John Farrell: Thank you so much for listening to this Voices of 100% episode of Local Energy Rules with Moab City Council member Kalen Jones and City Sustainability Director Mila Dunbar-Irwin discussing the city’s 100% renewable electricity pledge and its opportunity to join forces with its peers to achieve the goal. On the show page, look for links to the city’s policy announcement, it’s municipal solar projects, and Utah’s Community Renewable Energy Act HB 411. On ILSR’s website, you can find our February 2020 report on community choice energy as well as several podcasts interviews with city leaders from communities that have been able to choose their city’s electricity supply. You can also find ILSR’s community power map, detailing the state policies that give cities more flexibility and choice over their energy sources, as well as the community power toolkit, an interactive collection of stories of how cities have pursued their clean energy goals.

Hey, a quick reminder that you can win a $50 gift card by sharing your thoughts on the show. Head to ilsr.org/podcastsurvey and let us know what you think! That’s ilsr.org/podcastsurvey

Local Energy Rules is produced by myself and Maria McCoy with editing provided by audio engineer Drew Birschbach. Tune back into Local Energy Rules every two weeks to hear more powerful stories of communities taking on concentrated power to transform the energy system. Until next time, keep your energy local and thanks for listening.


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 percent 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 percent renewable energy. The city originally planned to reach this benchmark by 2032 and paired it with the goal to reduce greenhouse gas emissions 80 percent 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 five 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 percent renewable energy. 22 cities have committed to 100 percent 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.

This article originally posted at 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

Featured Photo Credit: Ken Lund via Flickr (CC BY-SA 2.0)

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Maria McCoy

Maria McCoy is a research associate with the Energy Democracy Initiative. In this role, she contributes to blog posts, podcasts, video content, and interactive features.