ST. GEORGE — Reducing hydropower rates amid a drought is the focus of the first bill sponsored by Utah’s news congressional representative.

This file photo shows Celeste Maloy, then the Utah 2nd Congressional District Republican nominee, speaking to reporters before an election night party at the Utah Trucking Association, West Valley City, Utah, Nov. 21, 2023 | Associated Press file photo by Rick Bowmer, St. George News

Congresswoman Celeste Maloy was sworn into office in late November following a special election to replace former Congressman Chris Stewart who resigned from office due to concerns related to his wife’s health.

Maloy’s first bill was introduced in early January and would reduce power rates impacting the West when certain hydroelectric facilities overseen by the Bureau of Reclamation fail to produce a contracted amount of electricity due to drought and low water levels.

Called the Hydropower Delivery Rate-reduction Offset (HYDRO) Act, Maloy has partnered with Arizona Democrat and Independent Sens. Mark Kelley and Krysten Sinema in introducing the bill, according to a press release from Maloy’s office. Fellow Utah Rep. John Curtis is cosponsoring the House version of the bill.

With the West gripped in an ongoing drought that has lasted for over 20 years and flows of the Colorado River dropping an estimated 20% during that time, water levels at Lake Powell and Lake Mead have dropped in recent years. Water from those reservoirs passes through the Glen Canyon and Hoover dams that supply electrical power to millions of people across the West.

When the reservoir water levels fall to a certain point, it impacts how much electrical power can be produced by the dams overall. And while there has been some rebound on the reservoir’s water thanks to last year’s heavy winter, both Lake Powell and Lake Mead have previously reached record-breaking lows.

This has resulted in hydroelectric power generation in the Colorado River Basin being reduced by roughly one-third, raising electricity costs as customers are obligated to replace unavailable generation from the volatile and limited wholesale market, according to the news release.

This file photo shows Glen Canyon Dam, Page, Ariz., June 10, 2022 | Photo by David Dudley, St. George News

Lower power generation out of Glen Canyon Dam has impacted communities in southwest Utah. Last March the St. George City Council voted to raise its power rates to cover the cost of replacing power formerly provided through the dam.

Hydropower makes up 4% of St. George’s energy portfolio, according to 2021 records shared with St. George News. St. George, like other municipalities, relies on a mix of energy sources to keep on the lights. Having a mix of resources provides a measure of stability in city power. Cities also do their best to lock in power rates for multiple years by entering into decadeslong contracts with power generation facilities.

However, if one of those sources of power is reduced or goes away, cities may have to look to the wholesale market, which is subject to high rates that can end up being passed on to businesses and households subscribed to the impacted utility service, be it a municipality or otherwise.

“That is what we’re aiming to avoid,” Maloy said in an email to St. George News Wednesday.

The HYDRO Act would direct the Western Area Power Administration to reduce contracted rates for those hydropower facilities to help stabilize utility costs.

Stock image, St. George News

“I am very excited to lead the HYDRO Act in the House,” Maloy said in the press release. “It will be a great benefit to all hydropower customers in the West who have been experiencing low electricity generation due to the severe and ongoing drought. I know this bipartisan legislation will be a great help in easing the burden for Utah and the other Colorado River Basin states whose electricity is generated by these facilities throughout the region.”

Maloy added in her email that the bill would benefit Utahns who have part of their electricity generated at the Flaming Gorge and Glen Canyon dams.

Arizona senators also commented on the proposed legislation.

Sen. Mark Kelly:

“As Arizona and the West continue to deal with the effects of this historic drought, we must address challenges brought by water shortages head on. As drought reduces hydropower generation, common-sense policies like the HYDRO Act will give us the tools we need to help ensure Arizonans don’t pay more for the electricity they need,”

Sen. Krysten Sinema:

“As record drought conditions impact our state’s ability to produce electricity through hydropower, we’re working to ensure hardworking Arizonans don’t have to foot the bill for higher energy costs,”

The HYDRO Act will:

Require the Western Area Power Administration to reduce rates for federal hydropower customers during times of lower electricity generation due to the ongoing drought in the West.
Provide flexibility to the Western Area Power Administration in how they choose to reduce customer rates with a variety of tools at their disposal.

The HYDRO Act will not:

Limit the ability of the Secretary of the Interior or Colorado River Basin states to address drought operations.

In the U.S. House of Representatives and Senate, The Hydropower Delivery Rate-reduction Offset Act of 2024 is numbered respectively as HB 6974 and SB 3581.

Both bills have been introduced to the Congress and have yet to be heard in committee.

Check out all of St. George News’ coverage of the 2024 Utah Legislature by clicking here.

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