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Utah Business

Utah Business partnered with Holland & Hart to host a roundtable event featuring Utah’s renewable energy leaders. See what was discussed here.

A conversation with renewable energy leaders

Utah Business partnered with Holland & Hart to host a roundtable event featuring Utah’s renewable energy leaders. Moderated by Christine Watson Mikell of Enyo Renewable Energy, they discussed the outlook for renewable energy and the environment in Utah, the challenges their industries face, and the significant opportunities that lie ahead. Here are a few highlights from the event.  

When it comes to renewable energy in Utah, where have we been and where are we going?

Richard Walje | CEO | RAW-Energy

One exciting change that’s happened is in information technology and how it’s deployed. We have the opportunity to run the grid more efficiently with more resilience, and we’re moving to more of that. Customers want to have more choice in the electricity that’s provided to them, and all of those things require a shift in how you think about things, like Rocky Mountain Power’s commitment to going to zero carbon. I wish I were starting [my career] instead of ending, just because there are so many different things, opportunities, and aspects that weren’t available in the past.

Nick Goodman | CEO | Cyrq Energy

We’re thrilled to see the amount of interest here in Utah. When we started 10 years ago, the focus was to take advantage of the resources here in the state but export to California. That was the market back then. As we fast forward 10 years to today, we already have 17 communities that are actively in discussions with us on our project in Southern Utah. The level of interest across the state—from industries as well as communities—is really heartening. I’m thrilled that we’re going to have the opportunity to not only generate some electricity here but consume it here as well.

Utah Business partnered with Holland & Hart to host a roundtable event featuring Utah’s renewable energy leaders. See what was discussed here.

What are the challenges to reaching our renewable energy goals? 

Luke Cartin | Environmental Sustainability Manager | Park City Municipal Corporation

Any time you try to do something new, it’s always a challenge. I think from the customer side, you get very overwhelmed very quickly. And on the community renewable energy side, it’s going to get even more complex. There are 23 communities. That’s over 115 elected officials. To keep everyone informed of something complex that’s never been tried before and make them feel comfortable with it requires a pretty big leap of faith. The nice thing in Utah is that we can usually identify the barriers we’re going to run into, and we can have these open conversations. It’s a really long slog, but it’s great to see that—in what people view as one of the most conservative states—we have leadership in renewables. It’s fun to be a part of it, but we’re dealing with 19th-century technology in a 1980-style regulatory environment and a market that’s expanding quickly.

Ryan McGraw | VP Project Development | PacifiCorp

I think the key challenge that we’re facing is long-planning directions. As Luke said, our integrated resource plan looks at a 20-year horizon, and we update that every two years. That’s become more and more challenging over the years as a result of changing regulatory environments, changing customer demands that want more flexibility in the electrons that they’re using, and, actually, in changing technologies that are coming to market. They’re decreasing in cost year over year. They’re changing the economics of what is feasible and what is reliable for all of our customers every two years. That’s why House Bill 411 is very important for the state of Utah. HB 411 allows Rocky Mountain Power to just work with the Utah Public Service Commission, as opposed to all six states. I think HB 411 will be a fantastic tool to get some great renewables in Utah, looking forward.

Mark Tourangeau | Director | Able Grid Energy Solutions

There are regulatory challenges, but an even bigger challenge for lithium-ion right now is the supply chain. We have to get lithium-ion battery manufacturing done in the United States. We can’t rely on China and South Korea anymore, where all of the batteries are coming from right now. So there was a big push under the current administration to get some of that manufacturing here in the US. I can’t get batteries for a 2022 bill right now. Getting batteries for a 2023 bill is very challenging, so 2024 is really the next time I can get batteries for new projects. The supply chain issue is a huge issue for not only lithium-ion stores but also for the flow batteries, iron phosphate, the things that form whatever it is you’re doing. Utah, as a state, could really help by building that supply chain capability within the state itself.

Troy Herold | Deputy Assistant Director of Renewable Energy | SITLA

My first responsibility is as a fiduciary to our beneficiary. At the end of the day, at least for SITLA, money talks. Of the $102 million that come into the trust, about only one percent is from renewables right now. It’s been growing exponentially over the last couple of years, but again, it’s pretty easy to grow exponentially when you’re dealing with those smaller numbers. 

We want to try and make it as easy as possible to do renewable energy projects on our properties. With that said, we don’t want to give the land away for free. We want to receive as much revenue as possible off of the land to support the school kids, so negotiating lease rates has probably been our biggest challenge in the last couple of years, especially since pricing has gone down significantly. 

Roland Howard | Renewable Energy Division Director | Hunt Electric

For us, the workforce is a big problem. Skilled trades are a huge issue. It’s not just in this state of Utah, it’s every peer group you talk to. The skilled trade industry has a severe shortage. Colleges and universities are great things—we’ve got to continue to promote four-year colleges—but they’re not for everyone. Whether it’s geothermal or batteries or solar or wind, it’s skilled trades that build that and the severe shortages are a problem. We can’t develop new projects if we don’t have the labor force to actually build. 

Kent Wilson | Commissioner | Emery County

I feel like Utah systems are antiquated, broken, and need to be changed. Not just in the solar industry, but in my county. We’ve got probably 3,000-4,000 megawatts of transmission lines going out of my county that are filled up with coal. If we’re going to go to zero-carbon, what is the next energy going to look like in Emery County? What do I need to do to compete with Wyoming or Idaho or somebody else out there? 

As we go to carbon-free, how does Emery County survive under the new footprint? I know that Park City doesn’t want to have cheap power on the backs of Emery County or Beaver County. We need to figure out a system where we can take care of our rural partners. I don’t know what the answer is, I just have a good idea of what the problem is. 

Utah Business partnered with Holland & Hart to host a roundtable event featuring Utah’s renewable energy leaders. See what was discussed here.

Knowing there’s a balance with our rural communities who rely on coal plants, how can we help those communities?

Becky Edwards | Utah Legislator | Utah House of Representatives

Thanks for that dose of reality, Commissioner. How do we grow our industry and become part of what is clearly going to be a diversified energy economy, but innovate from within the industry? How quickly does that happen? Who gets left behind? How do we continue to build out something that is sustainable and affordable and equitable across the state? Our renewable energy goals are great, but we should also have patience in bringing people along. Some of that starts with building relationships across all layers of government, from local city folks and mayors to counties who actually are the service providers.

Kim Frost | Executive Director | UCAIR

I think as we talk to our industry partners, we hear a lot about the environment, sustainability, and governance and how they’re looking at the future of their industry with that overlay. We haven’t come up with any clear solutions around that. I think we’re starting to identify the problem. We’re seeing industries try to make sure that they’re identifying the definitions around environmental justice, and we at UCAIR are looking at it very closely.

How has the new administration impacted your company’s ability to succeed, particularly here in Utah?

Jennifer Horne Huntsman | Attorney | Holland & Hart

Folks are really concerned about the impacts of lithium mining, for example. We have to do our due diligence not just for renewable projects, but also for mining projects in lots of different industries. The challenge is where you’ve got a project that could do great things from the environmental standpoint, but in order to get there, there’s the kind of socioeconomic social impacts and also very real environmental impacts.

I think it’s going to be interesting to see how this administration balances those competing interests and those very real concerns. And not just changes at the congressional level and at the legislative level but also changes in agency policy and how we view and treat and move through the process, or don’t move through the process. 

Craig Galli | Partner | Holland & Hart

It’s interesting if we compare what’s happening in the United States to Europe. In Europe, they can permit, license, and build renewable energy projects in a couple of years. There’s an explosion of wind and solar happening all through Spain, France, and other countries. One of the reasons for that is their permitting process is much more streamlined and they don’t have the judicial review opportunities we do. At some point we’re going to have to realize that to be globally competitive, we need to streamline the permitting process and maybe think of something so remarkably radical as to limit judicial review opportunities for renewable energy projects and other projects that have environmental benefits. Maybe there should be a presumption that they can go forward without judicial review, or maybe a limited administrative review. I see a lot of opportunities to try to streamline the process that is going to be necessary in order to be competitive globally with renewable energy projects.

Nick Goodman | CEO | Cyrq Energy

Our generating equipment gets manufactured all over the world and the last five years have been really tough between Covid, politics, and challenges at various ports and harbors. I’m hopeful that this new legislation will reinvigorate some US manufacturing and opportunities to address those issues. I think the current legislation is going to afford some opportunities for transmission, which we’ve talked about. We see remarkable inconsistency in permitting across the west, as we operate in different states between federal and state permitting, but just as individual states. We are looking at projects that are getting stalled for years because we can’t get drilling permits, or we can’t resolve land issues simply because agencies are unable to support the workload.

Utah Business partnered with Holland & Hart to host a roundtable event featuring Utah’s renewable energy leaders. See what was discussed here.

What are the most significant opportunities you see before us, despite the challenges we’ve described?

Sarah Wright | Executive Director | Utah Clean Energy

It’s clear that if we want to leave a livable planet for our kids, we have to adjust to climate change. The Biden administration is leading there, but it’s not just the Biden administration. You have Congressman Curtis who’s put together a Republican climate caucus, and Senator Romney has been a leader in this space. In a committee meeting recently, he said that we are going to be judged on whether we can move beyond politics and actually take action on climate. It’s really about acknowledging that we need to transition. Where the magic happens is where we come together and say that we’re going to transition and we want to make sure that Emery county is kept whole.

Luke Cartin | Environmental Sustainability Manager | Park City Municipal Corporation

Climate change is a big piece for us because 70 percent of our tax rolls come from the winter economy. We’ve lost six weeks in freezing temperatures since the 1970s, right? People almost get frozen with fear to act because they don’t know where to start. It’s also one of the largest—if not the largest—economic opportunity of this generation, if not the past century.

We always get asked on the federal side, “Would you love to see comprehensive administration?” I think for a lot of folks, people in the sustainability world especially, it’s easy to hide behind these broad actions, but I think the broad is too hard to solve. I think we need to really focus on the narrow tactical actions, like working to free up battery storage and that side of it. Yes, there needs to be an overall strategy, but one of the things that we’ve been effective at is getting our mayors in front of our congressional representation and saying, “Hey, we have this barrier to electric vehicles. We have this barrier toward energy efficiency. We need you to help solve this issue.”

Is there anything else you’d like to add?

Craig Galli | Partner | Holland & Hart

It’s going to be very difficult to streamline the federal permitting process and judicial review under the national department policy. However, what is possible is using renewable energy as an opportunity to really build coalitions of stakeholders as part of the federal process. We need education. People still don’t understand the climate crisis we’re in. Until we can shift the public perspective on climate crisis and understanding climate change and greenhouse gas emissions, it’s going to be an uphill battle. 

Kim Frost | Executive Director | UCAIR

I think when you look at the issues that are the most important to our citizens, air quality is one of them. We’ve spent the last 10 years talking about what individuals can do to reduce tailpipe emissions, and now we see that cars are getting cleaner, gas is getting cleaner. Part of that is due to electric vehicles, but the next thing that we really need to tackle is our area sources, and those are our buildings and our homes. Renewable is going to be a big part of that solution. Here in Utah, it’s going to have a huge impact on our air shed, which is really important to our population.

Ryan McGraw | VP Project Development | PacifiCorp

Sitting here at a table full of leaders, it’s pretty inspiring to hear the sense of optimism that a lot of us are feeling around our energy future. I suppose I’d just like to share that there’s a huge number of people at Rocky Mountain Power that are really talented and really creative and they’re sitting there trying to find the solutions to the problems that we’ve been talking about today. I’m really excited to hear that we’re all starting to align on what those challenges are.

Sarah Wright | Executive Director | Utah Clean Energy
It’s been said many times that in Utah, we’re pragmatic, we’re caring, and we can solve problems. But it takes different parties being at the table and it takes participation. I invite the readers to go to the Utah Climate and Clean Air Compact leadership webpage. We’d love more leaders to join that group and come together with problem-solving. A lot of people think that this is an issue that someone else will solve, but we need everyone’s voice at the table to solve this problem.

Utah Business partnered with Holland & Hart to host a roundtable event featuring Utah’s renewable energy leaders. See what was discussed here.

Mekenna is the editor of Utah Business magazine and a graduate of the print journalism program at Utah State University. She has written about business, music and culture for publications like Business Insider, Time Out, SLUG Magazine, Visit Salt Lake and the Standard-Examiner. She loves hiking, thrifting, reading and going on camping trips with her partner in their 1986 Land Cruiser.