ST. GEORGE — The origins of the power that allows residents to turn their lights on and run an appliances likely isn’t one of the questions on their minds when going about their day. However, city officials say those origins and their diversification creates a stable and sustainable system the city can rely on.
Sustainability and renewable energy use was a part of questions recently asked to candidates running for St. George City Council. Incumbent candidate Dannielle Larkin mentioned the city’s 10-year energy plan and how the city was moving away from consuming fossil fuels.
“We’ve been gradually moving to be more sustainable in our energy consumption,” Larkin said.
As for details on the 10-year plan, St. George News spoke with Bryan Dial, the city’s interim energy services director.
“A lot of forward planning goes into this 10-year plan,” Dial said, adding the plan involves buying long-term contacts from various energy providers in order to lock-in pricing for a set amount to time. As well, the city goes for multiple sources of energy beyond the fossil fuels, like hydroelectric, solar and natural gas.
The advantage that long-term contracts and diversification of energy sources brings is a stable source of power and energy costs. It lowers the risk of energy disruptions and relying too heavily on one source of power, Dial said.
Granted, certain sources of power can force the city to look to the market to buy additional power. That happened when the City Council approved what it called a “minimal” power rate increase in March to cover the cost of buying additional power to offset a loss in power generation at the Glen Canyon Dam. Power from the hydroelectric dam had gone down due to lowered water levels at Lake Powell caused by drought.
Concerning coal-driven power, while the city has been moving away from that source, it remains a notable part of the city’s energy portfolio. Nearly 24% of the city’s energy came from coal plants in 2021, according to data shared by the city. By 2030, the city plans to have moved away from coal entirely.
A breakdown of the overall 2021 energy resources mix and a general description of each:
37% Natural Gas: Natural gas is a fossil fuel composed mainly of methane. It is often used for electricity generation and heating.
32% Market: This category refers to the energy obtained from the market. It could include electricity purchased from other sources or through energy trading markets. While can can help balance out a region’s power demands, it can also be pricey depending on supply and demand.
24% Coal: This refers to energy generated by burning coal. Coal-fired power plants are a traditional and widely used method of generating electricity, yet have been shutting down over the last 20 years due to environmental concerns and governmental regulations.
4% Hydroelectric: Hydropower involves the use of flowing or falling water to generate electricity. This can be achieved through the use of dams and reservoirs like Lake Powell and the Glen Canyon Dam, or by harnessing the energy of rivers and ocean tides.
3% Renewable: This category typically includes energy derived from renewable resources, such as solar, wind, geothermal, and biomass. These sources are considered more environmentally friendly because they produce fewer greenhouse gas emissions and are sustainable in the long term.
While the city’s projected 2030 energy resources mix sees a drop in coal use, it also see significant jumps in renewable energy and hydropower use.
32% Natural Gas
One renewable energy source that has gained popularity in Southern Utah is solar power. St. George currently has over 740 energy customers who use roof-top solar power and can produce up to 6 megawatts of power, Dial said.
“We have a great net metering program in place for solar,” he said.
Bringing it back to the 10-year plan, Dial said it is a great example of the value of planning ahead and ensuring customers will have the power they need, when they need it.
The City of St. George primarily supplies power to residents who live north of the Virgin River, while those who live south of the river are served by Dixie Power. Areas that are not covered by Dixie Power or their own municipal power system are generally costumers of Rocky Mountain Power.
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