Energy News: Legislative Directives to the Utah State Energy Program 2009

By Elise Brown and William Chatwin

When the gavel falls on the final day of the Utah Legislative General Session, much of the work is just beginning on bills that have passed into law. If there are energy implications of new laws, frequently the Utah Geological Survey’s Utah State Energy Program (USEP) has a role in bringing the legislature’s intentions to fruition.

The 2009 General Session resulted in two legislative actions that required USEP’s assistance to implement. First, Senate Joint Resolution 1 specifically tasked the USEP to examine and develop model renewable energy ordinances. Second, Senate Bill 211 changed the way Utah adopts building codes by vesting the ultimate decision with elected officials. The USEP coordinated with the Utah Uniform Building Code Commission (UBCC) to conduct an analysis of changes to the International Energy Conservation Code (IECC).


Senate Joint Resolution 1 charged the USEP with holding consensus-building stakeholder meetings to produce model wind, solar, geothermal, hydroelectric, and biomass ordinances, as the USEP deems necessary. Emerging technologies, such as renewable energy systems, are often uncharted territory for local planners. As a result, the permitting process can be cumbersome for energy developers and governments alike. The purpose of model ordinances is to provide a template that cities and counties may consider when writing local rules and regulations.

The USEP found wind and solar to be important to examine. Through the ongoing functions of the Wind and Solar Working Groups and Resource Development Coordinating Committee, stakeholder comments were gathered. Interested parties such as the League of Cities and Towns, city and county planners, environmental groups, utilities, and others were invited to participate. The model wind ordinance provides language for both large and small wind developments that can be adopted with or without modification by cities and counties. The initial feedback the USEP gathered from the Solar Working Group suggests that a model ordinance may not be as helpful to city and county planners as a list of topics and questions pertaining to solar. This list, like the wind ordinance, will function as a tool for planners to help ensure that they address possible conflicts that may arise if a solar ordinance is passed.

Regarding other renewable energy sources, the USEP and stakeholders determined that model ordinances are unnecessary at this time. Utah’s leading geothermal electricity developers have all agreed that processes are already in place for their developments. Hydroelectric developments require water permits and may also necessitate a building permit from the local jurisdiction. Hydroelectricity is rarely installed on a residential scale in Utah, and thus is unlikely to require a local government ordinance. Biomass or bioenergy varies dramatically from installation to installation, and there are very few in Utah. As such, a unified code on a city or county level would not be helpful; these types of systems are better assessed for permitting on a case-by-case basis.


For the past 20 years, the code adoption process in Utah has been accomplished through administrative rule changes proposed by the UBCC. Utah updated all of its building codes on a regular interval that coincided with the publication of new national or international building codes. During the one-year lag between publication of the new codes and adoption in Utah, the UBCC would analyze the upgraded codes and possible amendments through their group of six advisory committees. Any interest groups who opposed provisions of the new codes were obligated to propose amendments through an explicit process within the advisory committees.

Following controversy about how codes are developed at the national level, Utah passed Senate Bill 211 to increase accountability for adoption of all state-level building codes, including the IECC. The change requires a legislative act for adoption, involving more layers of political process than for an administrative rule change. Additionally, there are two other main implications. First, the State Legislature requested more industry input to identify controversial provisions in the new codes. Second, the burden of proof has been shifted to proponents of upgraded codes to justify why Utah ought to adopt, rather than opponents making proposals for amendments.

Over the past several years the USEP has administered free energy code training that has included technical assistance for timely responses to code clarifications. This technical assistance was invaluable for quantifying the benefit to the State from adopting upgraded energy codes. We worked closely with our energy code trainer to conduct computer simulations showing the annual energy savings of different types of houses built to the proposed code upgrade. We also worked with other partners to illustrate different types of benefits and costs. For example, positive cash flow analysis shows the threshold where monthly energy cost savings are more than the increased monthly mortgage costs for an upgraded-code house, leaving more money in the homeowner’s pocket.


The USEP reported the initial results of the model renewable ordinance process to the Utah State Legislature in fall of 2009. Stakeholder meetings for solar and wind are being held at the time of this writing, so no conclusions have yet been determined.

The UBCC has made substantial progress in meeting the burden of proof for adopting upgraded energy codes. After numerous UBCC, advisory committee, and industry ad hoc meetings, a recommendation was made to adopt the upgraded provisions for commercial buildings and to conduct further analysis of the residential provisions (to be completed by June 30, 2010). The Legislature’s Business and Labor Interim Committee has voted to forward a draft bill into the General Session setting the stage for the Legislature to formalize adoption. That is, until the UBCC completes the residential analysis and generates additional recommendations.

Survey Notes, v. 42 no. 1, January 2010