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Concerns raised about sustainable energy bill

Concerns raised about sustainable energy bill


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SALT LAKE CITY — A coalition that includes the state's top consumer watchdog agency is staunchly opposing legislation it says would result in higher electricity bills for Utah ratepayers.

The coalition, representing consumers, low-income advocates, industrial and commercial energy users, clean-energy advocates and environmental groups, is calling on Utah lawmakers to vote against a proposal supported by the state's largest electricity provider.

SB115, the Sustainable Transportation and Energy Plan Act, would allow Rocky Mountain Power increased flexibility in its ability to "implement tariffs to provide funding for a sustainable transportation and energy pilot program," as well as allow the company to recover 100 percent of the utility's "prudently incurred costs" for alternative energy development. The measure would also allow the utility to establish electric efficiency technology programs.

Opponents argue that the bill would override the existing authority of the Utah Public Service Commission, while appreciably increasing rates for both businesses and consumers without offering significant environmental benefits.

"(SB115) is a wide-ranging bill that would make dramatic changes to utility law and obligate Utah ratepayers to pay millions more on their bills for unclear benefits," said Kelly Francone, executive director of the Utah Association of Energy Users.

The coalition also pointed to $100 million in proposed new spending over 10 years and to a significant shift in risk to consumers that it says would likely result in millions of dollars in additional costs each year from Rocky Mountain Power to its ratepayers.

The bill also would make changes in the accounting of how the utility handles money it raises from a specific billing surcharge to create a series of new ratepayer-funded programs.

"Make no mistake, (SB115) will raise rates," said Michele Beck, director of the Utah Office of Consumer Services. "We're concerned that the Legislature will not have enough time to fully consider what a significant impact this bill will have on all customers, including Utah families, small businesses and industrial energy users."

Rocky Mountain Power countered by saying SB115 is designed to use the same rate structure that is in place today, and the typical Utah customer would see a very minimal impact on their electricity bill.

"(SB115) offers solutions for Utah to prepare for the future by improving air quality, creating jobs and keeping electricity reliable at a reasonable cost to customers," said Rocky Mountain Power spokesman Paul Murphy. "We are preparing for the uncertainties of federal environmental regulations on our coal generation. Investing now to help clean Utah's air will attract more businesses and jobs to the state in the future."

Additionally, the bill attempts to plan for the future by "making technical accounting changes to how we treat the energy efficiency charge so we can create a regulatory fund to help cover costs associated with new federal environmental regulations without raising rates," Murphy said.

"The benefit to customers is by planning today, we can avoid rate shock in the future," he said.

The measure is expected to be discussed in legislative committee early next week.

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