Mayor Dave Sakrison, front, spoke at a ribbon-cutting ceremony on Wednesday, Feb. 15, as he and others officially dedicated a new 25-kilowatt solar power array at the Moab City Center. Rocky Mountain Power's Blue Sky program customers donated 0,000 to fund the new array. Altogether, Blue Sky customers have given 14,311 to seven renewable energy projects in Moab, according to Rocky Mountain Power spokesperson Paul Murphy. [Photo by April Thomas]

Resolution 13-2017 doesn’t read like a typical Valentine’s Day message, although renewable energy advocates are smitten with it nonetheless.

The Moab City Council voted 4-0 on Tuesday, Feb. 14, to approve a resolution that sets ambitious goals to increase the city’s renewable energy consumption and to reduce community-wide emissions of greenhouse gases. Council member Heila Ershadi was not present for the vote, which drew loud and sustained applause from residents who filled the council’s chambers in a show of support for the resolution.

Under the new goals, the city aims to ensure that 100 percent of the community’s energy supply comes from renewable energy sources by the year 2032, while pushing for an earlier 2027 transition to meet its municipal energy needs. At the same time, the city is seeking an 80 percent reduction in community-wide greenhouse gas emissions by 2040.

Moab City Council member Kalen Jones, who has been working with council member Rani Derasary on sustainability-related issues for much of the past year, said the resolution is designed to “provoke” specific and immediate action. Yet it also establishes a reasonable time frame for the city’s goals to come to fruition, he said.

The resolution says that Moab is already feeling the effects of climate change, and it aims specifically to shift the community’s energy sources away from coal-fired power plants that generate greenhouse gas emissions. Scientists link emissions of heat-trapping gases like carbon dioxide to the global phenomenon, and Jones suggested that those emissions could be a factor in warmer-than-average late winter temperatures in Moab.

“It’s Valentine’s Day, and I received flowers,” he told the council. “They were in my yard, though – my yard is full of flowers, and it’s Feb. 14.”

Taken by itself, Jones said he knows the sight of the early-blooming flowers is not evidence of climate change. He also acknowledged that he might be guilty of confirmation bias, or the tendency of looking for affirmation where he can find it.

“But there is scientific consensus regarding the reality of climate change – especially the contribution of fossil fuels to warming up the planet,” he said.

Rising temperatures, extreme weather events and other disruptions could threaten the economy, health and welfare of residents, he said, and the resolution makes it clear that the city is committed to addressing those threats.

“It’s the city’s job to protect the health, safety and welfare of its citizens,” he told the Moab Sun News.

Derasary said the city’s goals can also encourage the state to increase its renewable energy capacity – particularly solar, but also wind power.

“In many ways, it just looks kind of like an empty page with a lot of promises, and we take it seriously, because we know if we pass it, we’re responsible for actually making something come out of it,” she said.

Moab Mayor Dave Sakrison said the resolution builds on the city’s status as the first green power community in the nation that the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) recognized.

“This is the next step, and I think it’s a worthwhile step,” Sakrison said. “It’s probably not going to happen overnight, but it’s a goal worth pursuing – not only for us, but for those that come after us.”

Salt Lake City and Park City have made similar commitments, and Jones said he and Derasary looked to both communities in search of long-range planning models that are proven and working. But it will take time to implement the city’s goals, Jones said, and the council is not moving to “shove them down residents’ throats,” as some social media commenters have alleged.

“It’s aspirational,” he said. “We have allowed ourselves time to work this out.”

To begin with, he said, the city will likely conduct an inventory that will take a closer look at its power usage, while examining ways to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and shift more toward renewable energy sources. Within the next six months or so, he said, the city is expected to hire a sustainability director who will help guide it through that lengthy process.

For now, he said, the city is giving utility Rocky Mountain Power a clear idea of the community’s long-term vision of the future.

“If Rocky Mountain Power is going to go to the effort of building us more solar capacity, they need to hear from us as a community,” he said.

Rocky Mountain Power External Communications Director Paul Murphy said that much of the groundwork was already laid during the company’s work with Salt Lake City and Park City. That work is part of a broader effort that Rocky Mountain Power and parent company PacifiCorp have undertaken to better understand the energy wants and needs of different states and communities.

On the one hand, Murphy said, the State of Oregon has a goal of eliminating coal-fired generation by 2030, while states like Wyoming want to use “as much coal as possible.” Likewise, he said, the company hears similarly conflicting feedback from its residential customers.

“We have dueling interests,” he told the Moab Sun News. “Some people want the lowest prices possible, and then there are those who want more renewables. Our goal is to provide both: Renewable energy at the lowest prices possible.”

To further that goal, Murphy noted that his company signed an agreement to buy energy from a 20-megawatt solar power pilot project in Millard County, which forms the backbone of its Subscriber Solar program. That pilot project has been so successful, he said, that Rocky Mountain Power is now committed to investing in additional solar power projects in Utah.

The Subscriber Solar program itself quickly filled up, although it has since had a few openings. With a few slots now available, Murphy said he was heartened to learn that the City of Moab plans to purchase more power from the Millard County project.

“I was encouraged by Mayor Dave talking about how Moab plans to take part in our Subscriber Solar program as one way to reach (its) goal,” Murphy said. “Moab really is the model for other communities on what can be done (to promote renewable energy projects).”

City hears criticism from former council candidate

Moab resident Kelly Mike Green – a 2015 candidate for city council – said he doesn’t have a problem if an individual citizen wants to install photovoltaic panels on his or her property. But he questioned whether the city had conducted a breakdown of the actual costs that citizens could incur as a result of the council’s new goals.

“My main concern as a citizen is what is it going to cost me?” he asked the council on Feb. 14. “Who is going to pay for it? I hope it’s not the citizens.”

Ultimately, Green said he hopes that council members take a hard look at their goals and reach the conclusion that it’s still cheaper to use natural gas.

For everyone like Green, though, there’s someone else like Jacques Hadler.

The Moab Cyclery manager was one of 20 representatives from local businesses who signed a letter in support of the council’s resolution.

The cyclery installed its first solar array in 2007, and it subsequently added a second set of panels. Together, the system now provides 100 percent of the cyclery’s energy needs, according to Hadler.

He and his wife also installed solar panels on the two houses that they own. While they haven’t yet recouped their up-front expenses, they don’t have any monthly power bills, either – although Hadler said that concerns about costs weren’t the main factor in their decision to go solar.

“It’s also the right thing to do,” he said. “It’s an investment in the future … If you have kids, looking down the road, to me, it just makes sense.”

Derasary, meanwhile, said she hopes that the letters and emails in support of the city’s resolution will ease the concerns that critics may have.

“I hope that for people who are a little bit unsure about this still, that the enthusiasm of those people helps them feel a little bit better,” she said. “A lot of these are individuals and businesses who’ve made already big changes in their lives to use more renewable forms of energy.”

Council also hopes to curb greenhouse gas emissions by 80 percent

It’s probably not going to happen overnight, but it’s a goal worth pursuing – not only for us, but for those that come after us.