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The City Journals

Cottonwood Heights looks toward a sustainable future with collaborative program

Apr 05, 2021 11:03AM ● By Josh Wood

By Joshua Wood | [email protected]

Cottonwood Heights has joined a collective community vision focused on clean energy. The City is part of Utah 100 Communities, a collaboration with Rocky Mountain Power that aims to transition to net-100% renewable electricity. The project is part of several initiatives that Cottonwood Heights has in the works to build a more sustainable future.

Utah 100 Communities started with legislation passed in 2019. The Community Renewable Energy Act, HB 411, established the legal pathway for communities in Utah to partner with Rocky Mountain Power to establish net-100% renewable energy to their residents and businesses. Any community that is served by Rocky Mountain Power and that passed an aspirational resolution to join the program was eligible for further participation in the program.

“Over the last year or so, there’s been a lot of back end work meeting with all of these community representatives trying to get on the same page about the program’s design,” said Samantha DeSeelhorst, associate planner and sustainability analyst with Cottonwood Heights City. “Now we’re at the point that decisions will start coming up again and cities will be able to continue to evaluate if this is something we still want to do.”

Net-100% renewable energy means that participating communities will still be on the Rocky Mountain grid, but their energy usage will be offset by renewable energy projects. “There has been some concern about communities switching to renewable energy sources,” DeSeelhorst said. “But that is not a feature of the program.”

Once communities like Cottonwood Heights decide whether to move forward with the program, they will request proposals for specific renewable energy projects.

“There is this neat component where we can go to communities and say we are really looking for a project in Utah or for a project that encourages economic development and jobs for Utah,” DeSeelhorst said. “There is the option for them to be more local. That’s part of what’s neat about this program is that local communities get to have more of a voice.”

Participating communities will decide whether or not to continue with the program over the next several months. If they elect to proceed, they will sign a governance agreement detailing potential types of projects and cost sharing options. A draft of that plan will be reviewed for comment and input by city councils this spring.

“There’s a lot of flexibility built into this program to try to make it as broad and consensus-based as possible,” DeSeelhorst said. “Whether people are in a large city like Salt Lake City or a smaller community like Alta, we wanted it to be something that could benefit everybody. We’re hopeful that all or most communities will sign on to the program.”

The primary factor that could make community representatives think twice about moving forward is cost. While renewable energy projects are designed to deliver long-term cost benefits, upfront costs will be a factor. Cities will need to decide if the program is something for which they want to budget.

“A lot of the costs are startup costs associated with launching a program,” DeSeelhorst said. “It’s important that these costs are not shifted to other customers, like Heber, who are not participating in the program.”

Utah 100 Communities is part of the City’s overall sustainability plan, which also includes its parks and open spaces plan. The City saw a significant increase in park and trail usage throughout the COVID-19 pandemic. The City will continue its work to expand and connect open spaces.

Cottonwood Heights is also working with other communities like Millcreek and Holladay as well as the nonprofit Seven Canyons Trust on the Seven Greenways Vision Plan. The plan aims to create green corridors along the seven waterways flowing out of the Wasatch Range in Salt Lake County. This would increase accessibility and green space around City Creek, Red Butte Creek, Emigration Creek, Parleys Creek, Mill Creek, Big Cottonwood Creek, and Little Cottonwood Creek.

“We want to protect them but also make sure people have access to them,” said DeSeelhorst. “We want to make sure everyone has access to them, and not just people with cars.”