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West Valley City Journal

City officials lean toward own sustainability plan

May 02, 2022 09:23PM ● By Travis Barton

By Travis Barton | [email protected]

It’s all about where you direct your energy.

And for West Valley City, officials prefer to work toward their own plans of sustainability rather than “opt in” to the state’s Community Renewable Energy Act, also known as HB 411.  

The legislature’s bill, passed in 2019, aims to help cities achieve net-zero emissions by 2030. It originally gave municipalities until the end of 2020 to opt in the interlocal agreement that included other stakeholders such as other cities and Rocky Mountain Power.

That deadline was extended to May, giving West Valley City officials a chance to further discuss whether to join the coalition.

But city administration has remained steadfast in its preference to pursue a similar goal through its own measures rather than participate in HB 411 under its current structure.

“Nothing has substantially changed at all in terms of requirements or projections of cost or governance set up,” City Manager Wayne Pyle told the council in March. “Staff’s standpoint is to not participate in this.”

Mayor Karen Lang agreed that no new info had come to light since last summer that would change her mind.

Councilman Lars Nordfelt expressed waiting longer to make a decision or even opt in at first to then potentially opt out later if they don’t feel it serves the city’s best interests.

“I like the things we are doing and the direction we’re going,” Nordfelt said during a study meeting in March. “This 411 provides opportunities that we could not provide…Maybe this would be worth offering to our residents and businesses who really want it, might provide an opportunity that we wouldn’t have otherwise if we opt out.”

City officials have repeatedly pointed to their own work toward sustainability, which included a more thorough breakdown to the council in its January strategic plan meeting.

The City Council passed a resolution in December 2019 stating its goal to produce “renewable energy in an amount equivalent to that produced and consumed in the city by 2030” and “seek to achieve additional energy efficiency.” The resolution also encouraged residents to improve energy efficiency in their own homes.

City administration pointed out moves toward sustainability as far back as 2000, and suggested actions even further back, during its strategic plan meeting.

Among the moves included being the first city to build a transit oriented development (housing located at the end of a transit line) and utilizing federal grants back in 2008-09 for energy efficiency improvements like changing light systems, insulation projects and HVAC modifications.

There are just over 4,500 rooftop solar panels in the city, said Nicole Cottle, assistant city manager. She noted one change with a boiler unit helped save 200,000 kilowatt hours or 1,400 metric tons of CO2. Since 2016, 20 sizable businesses installed solar arrays.

The city invested in electric cars when it became feasible commercially before expanding it to their detective fleet and is also tracking how many car chargers are going into the city. By going to a four-day work week, it saved on commuting and building energy, according to city officials, who acknowledged the sustainability plan didn’t start as a concerted effort, but more as a way to help cut cost while still creating benefits.

Pyle did point out they’ve been working on a more “strategic plan” for three or four years. Other plans presented to the council included appointing a full-time sustainability officer and creating a tree-planting program.

Councilman Jake Fitisemanu Jr. said he empathized with Nordfelt’s approach to giving each individual a choice, but also felt confident in a city-based sustainability plan, though adding he “would love to see more concrete deadlines and accountability to keep ourselves on track, to really make sure that it is prioritized.”