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Sen. Stuart Adams' Rocky Mountain Power bill survives committee hearing

FILE: A committee of lawmakers said Thursday that Sen. Stuart Adams' SB115, affecting oversight of Rocky Mountain Power and dealing with multiple renewable energy issues, needs more discussion and debate among their colleagues. They advanced the bill.
FILE: A committee of lawmakers said Thursday that Sen. Stuart Adams' SB115, affecting oversight of Rocky Mountain Power and dealing with multiple renewable energy issues, needs more discussion and debate among their colleagues. They advanced the bill.
Deseret News

SALT LAKE CITY — Senate Majority Whip Stuart Adams' measure to give greater financial flexibility to Rocky Mountain Power for how it handles revenues had several Teflon moments in a committee hearing Tuesday, surviving two attempts to change its language and another to send it to study.

Ultimately, SB115 squeaked out of the House Public Utilities and Technology Committee on a 6-5 vote and advanced to the full House for consideration.

Called the Sustainable Transportation and Energy Plan, or STEP, the bill gives the Utah Legislature — not the Public Service Commission — the responsibility to set policy for the utility, which Adams said is critical.

"I think we should set policy as a state," he said. "We have given up our fiduciary responsibility as a Legislature to set policy."

Adams has insisted in repeated committee hearings that it is more tenable for the 104-member Legislature to exercise oversight of the utility company rather than an unelected, three-member commission.

SB115 authorizes Rocky Mountain Power to initiate a five-year pilot program that includes:

• Investment in clean coal technology.

• Investment in large-scale electric vehicle infrastructure.

• Battery storage or electric-grid related projects.

Claire Geddes, a longtime consumer advocate and legislative watchdog, said the regulatory upheaval posed by Adams' bill means ratepayers will ultimately pay for more than what it costs for Rocky Mountain Power to deliver electric service — charges she says are inappropriate for a utility bill.

Geddes also argued to lawmakers Tuesday that their job is not to unleash the constraints hoisted on the utility company, but to keep them in check for the benefit of consumers.

"All I want to do is to be treated fairly," she said.

By allowing Rocky Mountain Power to retain 100 percent of its incurred costs in what's called an energy balancing account — rather than the 70 percent ceiling that currently exists — Adams' bill means customers risk rate increases without appropriate regulatory oversight, she argued.

Rocky Mountain Power has countered that it needs the financial flexibility to better adapt to a changing regulatory environment, including more discretion for how it handles long-term assets like coal-fired power plants and where it invests dollars and technology to retain viability in the marketplace.

Solar power critics asserted Adams' third version of the bill was a direct attack on the solar industry — undercutting financial incentives for rooftop solar — but Adams said Tuesday he's addressed those concerns in the latest variation.

"I've worked diligently with the solar industry and Utah Clean Energy, and we think we have fixed their concerns and they are comfortable with the changes in the fourth substitute," he said.

Rep. Stephen Handy, R-Layton, said the rapidly transforming energy market demands that the utility company have the ability to adjust and react.

"It is extremely complicated, but we are in a fundamental transformation of the electric industry for a number of reasons," Handy said. "The transformation is going on everywhere and in accelerated proportions. I applaud the regulated utility for trying to get ahead of it."

Rep. Patrice Arent, D-Millcreek, tried to amend Adams' bill to change the language from "shall" to "may" when it came to provisions for the Public Service Commission to authorize investments in clean coal technology by Rocky Mountain Power or $2 million in spending for electric vehicle incentives.

Arent said softening the language would give the commission greater discretion to act, rather than a mandate. Adams said it's been precisely due to the lack of commission directives that's prevented those types of investments.

Email: amyjoi@deseretnews.com

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