Rocky Mountain Power resists pollution-reduction targets

OGDEN, UTAH - Hoping to avoid mandatory reductions in greenhouse-gas emissions, Rocky Mountain Power is proposing legislation that would prohibit the state from imposing specific deadlines on pollution-reduction targets.

The utility said it has its own plan to reduce emissions by increasing the proportion of energy it gets from noncarbon-emitting sources to 20 percent by 2025. Such sources, primarily wind and hydroelectric, currently account for about 3 percent of the company's energy portfolio.

Rocky Mountain Power President Rich Walje, addressing the Standard-Examiner editorial board recently, said the utility needs flexibility to meet rapidly growing demand for electricity in Utah.

About 85 percent of electricity generated in Utah is derived from coal, which is among the cheapest ways to produce electricity, but is also the nation's top source of greenhouse-gas emissions.

While cleaner technologies are developing, coal will have to continue to be a major part of the resource mix in the near future to keep service reliable and cost-effective, Walje said.

"The legislation is meant to address policy objectives without forcing us to do things that are not economical for our customers," he said. "We want policy direction, but we don't want to be told to do a certain thing at a certain time."

Forced changes to the utility's energy portfolio could cause drastic spikes in customers' monthly bills and reliability problems as demand grows, he said. Rocky Mountain Power plans to reduce emissions through increased use of nuclear, geothermal and hydroelectric power.

It also plans to implement carbon-sequestration technology to reduce emissions from coal- and natural gas-fired generation. Utah Senate Majority Leader Curtis Bramble, R-Provo, plans to sponsor a bill supporting the company's goal in the upcoming legislative session, which begins Jan. 21.

As the federal government and some states move closer to pollution-reduction mandates, utilities are becoming wary of building more coal-fired plants in the face of increased opposition.

"There will clearly be a carbon-management regime at the national level within the next couple of years," Walje said. "That brings a lot of uncertainty to our decisions."


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