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Guest opinion: Climate solutions must benefit all Utah communities

Young climate activists seeking action from local and state leaders to combat climate change rally at the Capitol in Salt Lake City on Friday, Sept. 20, 2019. Similar rallies took place across the country and world.
Kristin Murphy, Deseret News

The U.S. is in the midst of an energy transformation driven by falling prices of renewable energy resources, like wind and solar, and concerns about the mounting impacts of climate change. Utility companies across the country, like Xcel Energy of Colorado and Idaho Power, have committed to dramatically increasing their use of renewable energy.

Meanwhile in Utah, residents and businesses are calling for access to more clean energy options. HB411, an innovative new law enacted last year, creates a pathway for communities served by Rocky Mountain Power to move to net-100% renewable energy by 2030. Moving towards a carbon-free future offers tremendous opportunities for Utah to utilize our abundant renewable energy resources and become a trailblazer of new ideas, technologies and industries, while also enjoying the added benefits of creating new jobs and improving air quality.

Utah is rightly proud of being an energy powerhouse in the West and we, of all the states, have the ability to develop new clean energy industries right here. As one of the top states for renewable power generation, Utah has ample opportunity to build out utility-scale solar power and energy storage technologies. For example, the growing cluster of clean energy projects in Beaver and Millard counties, including a number of utility-scale solar, wind and geothermal projects, and a large compressed air energy storage facility are now in the works. Utahns can expect more of these projects in the years to come.

But for Utah communities that rely on traditional energy industries, renewable energy projects won’t provide enough new jobs alone. We also need to help create new economic opportunities for the next generation. States and communities in the west are exploring collaborative initiatives that can provide resources and support for rural communities during this transition. Colorado, for example, recently created an executive office with community stakeholders to create an economic development and transition plan for its coal communities.

The shift towards zero carbon energy resources is not solely an economic transition. It also is about the health and well-being of our families and communities. Low- and moderate-income communities are typically the most likely to be impacted by climate change, including changing weather patterns like extreme heat and flooding from heavy rainfall. Many households have difficulty paying their monthly energy bills and this problem will only increase as extreme temperatures continue to dramatically fluctuate. To help improve this, looking to energy efficiency and public transportation is one way we can reduce energy costs for households and make our communities healthier. Low- and moderate-income families tend to have older, less energy-efficient housing, but by upgrading our homes and buildings to be more energy efficient, we can lower emissions and save money. Programs like the Empower SLC partnership, which Utah Clean Energy helps lead, and the Utah Legislature’s approval of new funding for the state Weatherization Assistance Program will help achieve these goals.

With the 3rd annual Utah Climate Week coming up this week, we should celebrate the economic and environmental benefits that our energy transition will bring. But we can’t just wait for this transformation to happen. We must continue to forge new partnerships in our state, between urban and rural areas and across party lines, to ensure that all of Utah’s diverse communities are not only prepared for the impacts of a changing climate but also thrive from the actions we take to reduce emissions and promote clean energy.

Juliette Tennert is the director of economic and public policy research at the Kem C. Gardner Policy Institute and a member of the board of Utah Clean Energy. Josh Craft is Utah Clean Energy’s government and corporate relations manager.