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Courtesy of Auric Solar

New West Daily Roundup for Dec. 12, 2016

Today in New West news: RMP suspends solar net-metering change, mini-Bears Ears Monument?, MSU Western Transport Institute receives $7.5M, and Chipotle to retain Steve Ells as sole CEO.

Earlier, we reported Rocky Mountain Power was mulling a change in their net-metering rule—specifically how they factor in rooftop solar generation into power bills. Solar industry reps decried the move as a way to single out and punish solar customers with higher rates. Said reps also feared the change could have a chilling effect on solar applications in the state, although the number of applications spiked last week ahead of a meeting with the Utah Public Service Commission.

Now, according to the Salt Lake Tribune, RMP has asked the Commission for more time to negotiate with solar energy advocates; the Commission has suspended consideration as such. From the Tribune:

According to a letter Rocky Mountain Power submitted to the commission, the utility has spent the past week talking to various stakeholders about negotiating.

“Based on the current status of the meetings and in an effort to foster further discussion,” the letter says, Rocky Mountain Power recommended a suspension “while interested stakeholders continue to seek mutually acceptable resolutions.”

The suspension will remain in place until Rocky Mountain Power indicates to the Public Service Commission that a resolution has been reached, or that negotiations have become “unfruitful,” according to the commissioners’ Friday afternoon order.

Doug Robinson, CEO of Legacy Power, said he was excited by the outcome.

“I’m really relieved that the Public Service Commission … wants to see mutually acceptable resolutions,” he said. “This is really what the solar industry has been asking for.”

Ryan Evans, president of the Utah Solar Energy Association, agreed. He said he hoped negotiations would allow the solar industry to review additional data with Rocky Mountain Power that demonstrate the benefits, not just the cost, of rooftop solar to the electrical utility.

“There’s a way to find something that will work for everyone,” he said, “and that’s what we hope to do.”

Rocky Mountain Power spokesman Paul Murphy said the company also believes a mutually acceptable agreement is possible, though it still feels changes to electrical bills are necessary.

Solar users purchase significantly less power than households without rooftop solar, which lets them avoid paying for grid maintenance — currently part of charges for electrical use — and thus receive what amounts to a subsidy from other customers, according to Rocky Mountain Power.

“Our goal is still the same,” Murphy said. “We want a rate that is fair to rooftop solar customers, and one that does not hurt customers who don’t have solar panels.”

Murphy added that Utah Governor Gary Herbert arranged a meeting between the utility and solar advocates.

Keeping with Utah, according to the Salt Lake Tribune, Utahns are still waiting with bated breath over whether President Obama will designate Bears Ears Butte and the surrounding area a national monument.

Interestingly, some report the President could use measurements drawn up by U.S. Representative Rob Bishop for his Public Land Initiative; in Bishop’s PLI, the proposed monument is scaled down from 1.9 million to 1.3 million acres, with Bishop calling for the area to be named a national conservation area instead of a monument. Bishop recently said he would ask the incoming administration to scrutinize and, if legally possible, revoke any monument designation for the Bears Ears area. From the Tribune:

So is a compromise monument scenario something Utah and San Juan’s political leaders can live with? Don’t count on it.

“That’s the wrong vehicle to get the right outcome,” said Gov. Gary Herbert. “It’s not the size so much as the vehicle.”

In other words, public process is paramount for ensuring a Bears Ears conservation program Utah can agree to.

“You can put lipstick on the pig … and say, ‘Look, we are only going to do 1.4 million acres, isn’t that what you want?’ ” Herbert said, but “the important part of this is it’s not going to be done legislatively.”

But on Friday, the sun officially set on Bishop’s efforts to solve the Bear Ears question when the U.S. House adjourned without taking a vote on his PLI bill, which would have affected 18 million acres of public land. The bill’s failure prompted conservationists to renew their calls on Obama to designate a monument.

“While we always preferred a legislative solution, this executive action is precisely what Congress envisioned when it delegated to the president the authority to create national monuments,” said Josh Ewing of Friends of Cedar Mesa. “With skyrocketing visitation [to the Bears Ears region] without management resources, continuing looting and vandalism, and the bull’s-eye of out-of-state energy developers, we don’t have 113 more years to wait for Congress to get the job done.”


Obama “has touted the fact that he has not done it where there has not been some desire to have a monument,” Herbert said. “So this would be first time that, if he does it, where we have none of our Congressional delegation supports it, the governor doesn’t support it, the Legislature is 90 percent opposed to it. The people in the area are mostly opposed. The Indians are at best divided.”

He referred to last month’s unsuccessful re-election bids of Ute Mountain Ute Council members Malcolm Lehi and Regina Lopez-Whiteskunk.

“Those who were pushing for a national monument were replaced in office and one of the reasons for it was because they thought there was too much emphasis on the monument,” Herbert said.

Monument backers say other issues were at play in those tribal elections and point out that Kenneth Maryboy, a former county commissioner who supports the monument, was elected president of the Navajo Tribe’s Mexican Water chapter.

The San Juan County Commission remains deeply opposed to a national monument, but acknowledges that the region’s cultural sites, scenery and geological wonders are treasures worthy of preservation — as long as public access and traditional uses are also preserved.

Over in Montana, according to the Bozeman Daily Chronicle, Montana State University’s Western Transportation Institute has received a $7.5 million grant from the U.S. Department of Transportation to research mobility across the state:

The award was made after a highly competitive selection process in which the WTI was selected as a Tier 1 University Transportation Center. To earn the Tier 1 designation, the WTI submitted a winning proposal focused on improving the mobility of people and goods and highlighted its leadership and experience in education, workforce development and technology transfer.

With the grant, WTI will study how to develop effective transit networks for small cities and the use of technology by rural and tribal transit systems.

The DOT received a record-high 212 applications for the 2016 UTC grant program, in which $300.3 million in funding was granted to 32 new centers.

MSU’s WTI will lead the Small Urban, Rural and Tribal Center on Mobility, a consortium that includes the Upper Great Plains Transportation Institute at North Dakota State University and the Northwest Tribal Technical Assistance Program at Eastern Washington University.

Based at WTI headquarters at MSU, SURTCOM will receive approximately $7.5 million over five years to address issues such as enhancing access to public transportation, exploring alternative transportation such as ride-sharing, adapting “smart city” innovations to small communities, and increasing walking and cycling.

David Kack, manager of WTI’s mobility and public transportation program, will direct the newly created SURTCOM. He said the center is eager to address the transportation challenges faced in these underserved areas.

“These areas are often overlooked, as many people focus on potential mega-regions and large urbanized areas,” Kack said. “We look forward to providing leadership in addressing mobility issues in small urban, rural and tribal areas.”

Finally, over in Colorado, according to the Denver Post, Steve Ells will remain sole CEO of the much-beleaguered fast-casual chain Chipotle Mexican Grill Inc. The announcement comes after a number of shareholders (including Amalgamated Bank and Change to Win Investment Group) had called for Ells to be removed from his post. From the Post:

The move comes as the Denver-based fast-casual restaurant chain, once lauded for its rapid growth, has struggled amid a string of food safety crises.

“Given the ongoing challenges facing the company, the board felt strongly that it was best for Steve to resume leadership of the company going forward,” Neil Flanzraich, lead director of the board, said.

The move marks the second breakdown of a rare co-CEO model this year. Whole Foods Market Inc. eliminated its dual-CEO leadership structure last month leaving co-founder John Mackey the sole CEO.

Moran, co-CEO alongside Ells, will be resigning.

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