Solar Energy is Coming to Emery County – Who Will Bring It?

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Recently, there has been a lot of talk about a solar field or fields being built in Emery County to tap into Rocky Mountain Power’s (RMP) substations in the county.

Solar fields are being heavily subsidized by the government, which has led to large solar fields in California and across the nation. RMP is already taking advantage of the overproduction from these fields. During peak production of these fields, RMP purchases power at very low and sometimes negative rates. To take advantage of this influx of cheap (subsidized) power from the California solar fields, RMP has had to redesign the Emery County plants to ramp down during the times of day when solar is producing. The Huntington and Hunter plants both won awards in 2017 for becoming efficient in ramping boilers up and down quickly to meet the demand for integrating renewable energy into their systems.

In an interview with Spencer Hall, media spokesman for RMP, he explained that an increasing number of customers are asking for “clean” power and that supply is driven by customers’ requests and expectations.  This along with the tax incentives available for solar products will result in more solar projects being constructed, even if the current projects are over producing to the point that they are creating negative rates. This begs the question of why the government is still incentivizing solar projects, if there is an overproduction during peak production hours? Why are these same incentives not available for clean coal projects?  Nevertheless, PacifiCorp has two permitted solar sites in the local area, one in Wellington and one in Ferron on which they could build solar plants.

Onyx Renewables, a company known for developing small-scale utility projects nationwide, has answered a request for proposal (RFP) for solar energy issued from RMP on Nov. 15, 2017. The company is requesting a 70% tax abatement from Emery County. Luigi Resta, Executive Vice President of Utility Solar Development of Oynx Renewables, made a presentation to Emery County Commissioners on Nov. 21 asking for said abatement.

As the commissioners listened intently to Resta, Commissioner Paul Cowley asked what the workforce on the solar plant would be long-term, after construction is completed. Resta stated that the first year of operation would require more employees, but for the long-term the plant would need one full time person per 50 megawatts produced.  The proposed plants in Green River would each produce 200 Megawatts, as would the project in Moore.

Commissioner Lynn Sitterud expressed concern with the school district potentially losing such a high percentage in tax revenue and asked if Resta had met with the school district. Sitterud also expressed great concern in allowing the citizens of the county have a say in the matter.

Commissioner Kent Wilson seemed favorable to Resta’s proposal. He reported during the meeting that he had been in contact with Iron County where Onyx has a similar project currently under contract and that Iron County has been pleased with the outcome. Wilson stated that 30% of something is better than 100% of nothing, especially in light of the future of coal in Emery County.

It is no secret that renewable energy is here to stay and RMP plans to adjust accordingly, but with two local sites already permitted, the questions is, why isn’t RMP looking at building their own solar fields?

RMP is indeed looking at constructing their own larger solar plants. In order to do so, they would still have to complete the same process that Onyx is undergoing with the county, but it has been said that they will not be asking for any tax abatement from Emery County.

RMP’s holdup is government. They are waiting on a piece of legislation that they hope to get pushed through in this 2018 legislative session. H.B. 261, sponsored by State Representative John Knotwell, will level the playing field, so to speak. According to Hall, this bill will give RMP the same government incentives that companies like Onyx are currently receiving.

Hall said for a company like Onyx to come in and ask the county for such a steep tax break, “makes some people rich and the county poor.” He then continued, “I would urge the people of Emery County to ‘not sale the farm’.”

To help bring the electric grid current and boost renewable energy, RMP announced last year that it would be investing 3.5 billion into renewable energy with its Energy Vision 2020 project.

According to Hall, the key to the project is that RMP intends to follow the resource where it is.

“If there is a river, we put hydro on it, if it’s windy we put windmills up, if it’s sunny we do solar,” he said. “There will be a lot of big solar opportunities in Utah with it, and then we will build the transmission backbone to move that power around and incorporate the steady wind from Wyoming.”

“We want to be able to participate in these solar projects and we want to be able to do it at a utility scale. We are here for the long-haul, we are not a company that’s just in it to make a buck off of government incentive. We are here to do lasting, impactful projects.”

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