Steve Rush from Rocky Mountain Power approached the Morgan City Council this week during their council meeting about the purchase of Morgan City’s electric infrastructure.
After a lengthy meeting earlier in the day with UAMPS officials discussing the possibility of buying into a “mini-nuke” facility located in Wyoming, the council surely has some big decisions to make in the near future that could affect Morgan City very far into the future.
With the current environmental concerns surrounding coal plants, and the Sierra Club targeting natural gas, the electric market is uncertain. Rush said if it wasn’t for that uncertainty, “we probably wouldn’t even be having this discussion.”
He assured the council that Rocky Mountain strives to keep costs as low as possible, even though he admitted that the current rate for Morgan City Power users is a lower per kilowatt rate than what Rocky Mountain is currently offering.
Rocky Mountain currently has coal and natural gas facilities as their primary “base.” Representatives said they have no intention of being involved in nuclear power any time soon; although they do diversify their portfolio with solar incentives and stated that they are working at the federal level to try to mitigate the regulations. Rocky Mountain Power representative Lucky Morris noted that they believe they can meet the current standards for a number of years with their existing resources.
The duo were unified in their belief that it is difficult to get approval for nuclear facilities and say that they believe that the type of plant UAMPS is considering is at least 10 years out. They warned against putting too many eggs in the nuclear basket as there may be a “silver bullet” on the horizon to replace coal before the new plant even comes to fruition.
One of the challenges is that many of the renewable energy sources such as solar, wind and hydro power plants can only provide power as it is available. At present, there are no reliable, cost effective devices to harness and store the excess power that is produced during peak hours so that power can be provided when nature is not providing ideal conditions. However, Rush and Morris discussed advances being made regarding battery units for the storage of these organic power sources.
Over the last few years, solar power has become more efficient and cost effective and has therefore gained a lot of popularity. Reducing our carbon footprint is a concern for many Utahns, as is “living off the grid.” So there is certainly a call from many residents for the solar incentives that are presently offered by Rocky Mountain Power, but not by Morgan City.
Morris stated Rocky Mountain Power has updated their system and have no need to purchase additional power until 2028. They achieve this partially because of the uptick in voluntary power conservation. Rush noted that the “WattSmart” program was an effective tool in this effort. Conservation efforts help Rocky Mountain Power keep rates low. He believes their participation in efforts to support research of renewable sources of electricity and supporting an increase in charging stations for electric vehicles will help them stay within federal guidelines focused on reducing carbon emissions.
Mayor Ray Little asked Rocky Mountain Power representatives what they would rather invest in for the next five years, wind or solar. Rush stated that solar is the most cost effective option for Utah at the moment, Morris added that this question is something the company is currently considering, saying that right now they are not only trying to determine what type would be best, but also exploring other options that might be available.
Councilman Bill Cobabe said one of his main concerns was the affect the sale would have on Morgan City Power employees. He said Rocky Mountain Power officials had indicated that they would find positions for Morgan City Power employees which were as close as possible to their current positions, but also noted that the feedback they have received is that crew members are not in favor of any transition.
Councilman Mike Kendell asked how familiar Rush and Morris were with the City system. “We hear concerns from our citizens about power stability and I would love to know if, in your opinion, they are valid or not.” Rush stated that these “brown-outs” and other outages are generally caused by tree branches. He suggested that the main way to minimize these is trimming trees, but said it’s a struggle because people love their trees. He commended the City on their current upgrades and tipped his hat to the crews saying Morgan has a “great system.”
Rush was quick to note what a good team Morgan City Power has. “The advantage we have is that our computerized systems can tell us precisely which system has an issue during an outage. I doubt your system can tell you that, but you have crew members that probably know the system well enough to deduce where the problem areas are.”
Another struggle Councilman Kendell mentioned is that to his understanding it is hard to work with Rocky Mountain Power in relation to getting developments approved. Rush said that unfortunately, serving such a large area makes it so that new developments may not have a 24-hour turn around like you might see in a small town, but they do have a “customer guarantee” program that assures they will respond within 72 hours of the request.
Rush pointed out that it depends on the type of development and the time of year. “If it is during the peak of the summer, it will take longer.”
Concerns were also raised about customer service and response times for outages when they occur. Rush cited that their call system is top of the line. “As soon as the outage is reported, there is a trouble shooter that is dispatched to the area.” He assured that there are plenty of resources to facilitate issues even when there are large outages. “We will call in crews we have in Wyoming if we have to when there are large scale outages,” Rush assured.
Mayor Little asked if little areas like Croydon or Huntsville are a lower priority if the power is also out in Ogden. Morris claimed that whether you are from a large city or small town, they respond the same.
Councilman Cobabe said that his past experience with Rocky Mountain Power customer service while living in other areas has been positive.
Morris encouraged the council to consider the purchase option being proposed. He conveyed his opinion that Rocky Mountain Power could enhance the services provided to citizens if they purchase the system. He noted that the money the City would have from the sale could help fund other problem areas within the City.