PRESS RELEASE: February 2, 2016
DIVERSE COALITION URGES LEGISLATURE TO TAKE STEP BACK ON “STEP” LEGISLATION
ASKS LEGISLATORS TO REJECT ROCKY MOUNTAIN POWER’S EXPANSIVE LEGISLATIVE PACKAGE
A diverse coalition of Utahns – representing consumers, low-income advocates, industrial and commercial energy users, clean energy advocates and environmental groups – urges the State Legislature to vote “NO” on Rocky Mountain Power’s sprawling STEP (Sustainable Transportation and Energy Plan) legislation, Senate Bill 115, which was released this weekend.
The STEP legislation – SB115 – would override the existing authority of the Public Service Commission (PSC), significantly hike rates for both businesses and consumers, but would not offer significant environmental benefits, according to the coalition.
“STEP 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, a trade association with more than 30 members who are large Utah energy users. “This legislation is coming out too late for the full evaluation it deserves. We urge legislators to vote No.”
The coalition raised concerns that in pushing such a momentous package of changes in utility law and new programs to the State Legislature, Rocky Mountain Power is bypassing the PSC, charged by state law with investigating and approving utility rates and programs.
The groups also question whether utility rates are the appropriate funding mechanism for many of STEP’s proposals, with little or no link to the provision of electric service. This results, for example, in rural customers paying for programs that will not benefit them.
“We are worried the Legislature will feel pressure to make big changes to utility law that will cost our families and businesses millions without an opportunity to really study these issues,” said Tim Funk from the Crossroads Urban Center, which represents low-income Utahns. “Using utility rates to collect hidden taxes is one of the most regressive forms of taxation, disproportionately hurting our low income families.”
STEP would raise rates, said the coalition. It pointed to $100 million in mandated new spending over 10 years and to a measure that shifts significant risk, and likely millions of dollars in additional costs each year from Rocky Mountain Power to its ratepayers (via changing a key PSC program called the Energy Balancing Account). And the bill makes changes in the accounting of how the utility handles money it raises from a “demand side management” surcharge, and creates a series of new ratepayer-funded programs.
“Make no mistake – STEP will raise rates,” said Michele Beck, Director of the Utah Office of Consumer Services, the state agency charged with representing residential, small commercial and irrigation customers. “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.”
Lastly, the coalition expressed skepticism that STEP in fact will really have significant environmental benefits, as the utility has claimed. Several of the measures such as boosting charging for electric vehicles and shutting down a local natural gas power plant during inversions would offer only very small clean air benefits.
And several other parts of STEP, including an uncertain impact on energy efficiency spending and cuts in a program that subsidizes solar power, would actually worsen Wasatch Front air quality.
“STEP should not be seen as clean air legislation,” said Deborah Burney-Sigman of Breathe Utah. “There are a few pieces in here worth taking a look at in front of the PSC, but we share concerns that this bill is overall a step backward for clean air and clean energy.”
Given all these concerns and the sheer complexity of Rocky Mountain Power’s proposals, the coalition said, legislators need to reject the legislation.
Coalition Members include:
Utah Association of Energy Users (UAE, an association of over 30 large industrial and commercial energy users in Utah), Utah Office of Consumer Services, Utah Clean Energy, Breathe Utah, HEAL Utah, Crossroads Urban Center, and Western Resource Advocates
For more information, or to schedule an interview, call:
Kelly Francone, Executive Director, UAE, 801-355-4365
Gary Dodge, Counsel for UAE, 801-363-6363
Michele Beck, Director, Office of Consumer Services, 801-530-6674
Sarah Wright, Executive Director, Utah Clean Energy, 801-673-7156
Matt Pacenza, Executive Director, HEAL Utah, 801-864- 0264
Jennifer Gardner, Counsel for Western Resource Advocates, 801-487-9911