Logan city considers outsourcing coal to meet power demands
“Last year, we were one of the fastest-growing communities as least as far as electric load goes, in Utah. In fact, I think we even beat Lehi which has always been heads and tails above us ,” said Mark Montgomery.
He is the Executive Director of the Logan City Light and Power department. It’s his job to secure power to ensure the lights will turn on and the air conditioning will blow during the summer months.
“Growth has outpaced my ability to keep up with that load so I become more and more exposed to the prices of power on the open market. I can get power, it's just what I pay for it. This summer when I run short and I have to go to the open market to buy it I'm gonna be spending in the hundreds of dollars per megawatt-hour because I don’t have a contract locked up. So Enchant allows me to lock up a reasonably priced chunk of power.”
One potential long-term solution to meet Logan’s rising energy demands at a reasonable price involves a 15-year contract with Enchant Energy, a New Mexico-based company focused on retrofitting coal-fired power plants to perform amine-based carbon capture and storage.
“My hope is that this Enchant project has the benefits of all of the above. It's able to get most of the carbon out of the air and it still has that very small footprint for a large energy density and a very reliable power output. The opponents to that say well carbon sequestration doesn’t work and they might be right but we’re all really willing to let battery storage technology develop I would like to give this technology a chance to develop.”
Patrick Belmont, head of the Watershed Sciences Department at Utah State University and Vice Chair of the city’s Renewable Energy and Sustainability Advisory Board (RESAB), has concerns over the proposed contract with Enchant Energy.
“I think the city should very aggressively begin to explore other alternatives to generate renewable or at least non-carbon pollution-based power. That should be the top priority,” said Belmont.
“The idea that this coal plant is presented as the only option I think is unfortunate. We have to avoid brownouts, there’s no question about that, but we need to be doing it in a way that is not perpetuating the problem and not really threatening the future of our kids and grandkids.”
As of November 2017, the Renewable Energy and Sustainability Advisory Board had set a goal for 50% or more of the Logan City Light and Power Department’s energy sales to be supplied by renewable energy sources by 2030. Mayor Holly Danes says Logan is on track to meet that goal, but Montgomery says increasing our renewable energy footprint has tradeoffs.
“Over the next couple of years, we will pick up 15 megawatts of solar power, which, were trying to increase that renewable footprint that we have however keep in mind that for every megawatt of solar I buy I have to 100% back that up with another resource that's available at night,” said Montgomery.
The growth of renewable energy sources is one way Belmont says we can start to fight climate change, but, he says, our current efforts aren’t going to be enough.
“There’s still time to turn this around, but we need to start making really demonstrable progress now. And stop the games, stop the talking around the issue. We need to address this really difficult issue head-on. And we can, we have the technology we need. We really need the political willpower. We need individual citizens talking about this problem, because once we start talking about it, that naturally leads to real action. If you’re sitting at home and you’re concerned about climate change, you have to make sure that the mayor, and city council, and Logan Light and Power know that.”
Ultimately, Montgomery’s main priorities are maintaining Logan City’s high standards of reliable, affordable power.
“My argument is and maybe it's a poor argument, but it’s the reality of my job, is that I either enter into the contract for the power at a reasonable price or I go buy that same power on the open market at hundreds of dollars a megawatt-hour. It's the same power.”
The city council is expected to review a power purchase agreement with Enchant Energy in May, but until then, Logan residents will remain in the dark about where their energy will be coming from this summer.